Alternative Fuels

Researchers engineer E. coli to make fuels

Posted on December 15, 2011

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have made new strides toward the development of advanced biofuels that can replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuels with a domestically-produced “green” alternative.

Researchers have engineered the first strains of Escherichia coli bacteria, commonly referred to as E. coli, that can digest switchgrass biomass and synthesize its sugars into all three of those transportation fuels. Moreover, the microbes are reportedly able to do this without any help from enzyme additives.

“This work shows that we can reduce one of the most expensive parts of the biofuel production process, the addition of enzymes to depolymerize cellulose and hemicellulose into fermentable sugars,” said Jay Keasling, CEO of JBEI and leader of this research. “This will enable us to reduce fuel production costs by consolidating two steps — depolymerizing cellulose and hemicellulose into sugars, and fermenting the sugars into fuels — into a single step or one pot operation.”

The JBEI researchers attribute the success of this work to the “unparalleled genetic and metabolic tractability” of E. coli. However, the researchers believe that the techniques used in this demonstration should also be adapted to other microbes, which officials say would open the door to the production of advanced biofuels from lignocellulosic feedstocks that are ecologically and economically appropriate to grow and harvest anywhere in the world.

For more information on the researchers’ work with E. coli, click here.

Related Topics: alternative fuels

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