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Producing artificial biofuels in bacteria

Dr John Love, a 2013 BBSRC Innovator of the Year finalist from the University of Exeter, has developed a method of producing renewable artificial biofuels that can be used as a direct replacement for fossil fuels in normal vehicle engines.

Data breakout

1 year Time Love took to produce and customise the biofuels so they can be blended properly and used in available engines
50 Bn gallons Estimated biofuels market per year by 2019
10% Proportion of actual biofuel in typical 'green fuels'

In 2011 Love obtained a BBSRC Industry Interchange Partnership Award (now FLexible Interchange Programme (FLIP)) that allowed him to spend a year at Shell Biodomain in Chester. While at Shell, he proposed and successfully implemented a synthetic method of producing in E.coli bacteria molecules identical to fossil fuels.

Trials are now underway to increase yields of the biofuel, and improve the energy- and cost-efficiency of the production process. If successfully scaled up, Love's method of obtaining artificial biofuels could help to meet the growing demand for sustainable fuels.

The supply of high quality fuels, while reducing CO2 emission, remains one of the top priorities of today's economy. The European Union directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources requires that by 2020 a minimum of 10% of all energy, including transport fuel, must come from renewable sources.

"The bacteria we produced are the crucial first step towards a carbon-neutral and genuinely sustainable fuel that is compatible with existing infrastructure and lifestyles, and does not compete for agricultural land or food production," says Love.

And even though engines burning Love's biofuels will still emit CO2, the bacteria consume the same quantity of CO2 as they grow and produce the biofuel, meaning overall net CO2 production is zero.

The project has now expanded to a wider collaboration between the Universities of Exeter and Manchester, and Shell's Biodomain laboratory in Houston, US. Dr Jeremy Shears, Global Manager for the Biodomain at Shell says the collaboration was incredibly successful. "A huge win-win for both sides and we are excited about similar joint projects in the future."

Producing artificial biofuels in bacteria (PDF 174KB)

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Header image copyright: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr CC BY 2.0