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18 February 2010

Microbes Produce Fuels Directly from Biomass

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A collaboration led by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has developed a microbe that can produce an advanced biofuel directly from biomass

Deploying the tools of synthetic biology, the JBEI researchers engineered a strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria to produce biodiesel fuel and other important chemicals derived from fatty acids.

A combination of ever-increasing energy costs and global warming concerns has created an international imperative for new transportation fuels that are renewable and can be produced in a sustainable fashion. Scientific studies have consistently shown that liquid fuels derived from plant biomass are one of the best alternatives if a cost-effective means of commercial production can be found. Major research efforts to this end are focused on fatty acids – the energy-rich molecules in living cells that have been dubbed nature’s petroleum.

Fuels and chemicals have been produced from the fatty acids in plant and animal oils for more than a century. These oils now serve as the raw materials not only for biodiesel fuel, but also for a wide range of important chemical products including surfactants, solvents and lubricants.


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