Something Good Comes From Bacteria E. Coli, Renewable Propane

renewable propane from e coliCan something good come from bacteria E. Coli? Yes, thanks to the power of research, it sure can. In the race to find alternative, renewable sources of energy, researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Turku have recently announced that they have successfully engineered the bacteria E. coli to generate renewable propane.

Propane has many appealing qualities about it for commercial production as a potential source of fuel. One reason propane is appealing is that it already has an existing global market. Meaning it is already produced during natural gas processing  and petroleum refining. It is produced as a by-product. However, in both natural gas processing and petroleum refining the resources are “finite” meaning we have a limited supply.

Use of Escheririchia Coli
The team of scientists used Escherichia coli to interrupt the biological process that turns fatty acids into cell membranes.They used enzymes to change the direction of the fatty acids then along a different biological pathway. This caused the bacteria to make engine-ready renewable propane, instead of cell membranes.

Their ultimate goal is to insert this engineered system into photosynthetic bacteria, so as to one day directly convert solar energy directly into chemical fuel with minimal time and energy.

The objective here is to solve the issues that our growing population is facing. We have finite amounts of fossil fuels. We have ways of creating alternative sources of fossil fuels presently, but none are particularly ideal.  For instance, algae can be used to make biodiesel but it is not commercially viable because harvesting and processing requires a lot of energy and money. This is why the scientist chose propane because it can be separated from the natural process with minimal energy.

Whats Next?
The scientists currently have only been able to produce a very small amount, about one thousand times less than what would be needed to turn it into a commercial product. The researchers next objective is to refine their synthetic process and obtain a complete grasp on exactly how the fuel molecules are made.

Their hopes are that within the next 5-10 years a solution will be available that will efficiently produce commercially violable processes that will be sufficient to sustain the energy demands of this our world.