Bacteria-Made Biofuel Has Higher Density Than Jet Fuel
As efficient as fossil fuels are, their environmental impact cannot be exaggerated. Berkeley Lab researchers have now persuaded bacteria into directly creating a novel biofuel with a substantially higher energy density than jet fuel, Michael Irving reported for New Atlas.
Photo Insert: An electron micrograph showing the rod-shaped E. coli secreting oil droplets containing biodiesel fuel, as well as fatty acids and alcohol.
The new fuel contender molecules are known as polycyclopropanated fatty acid methyl esters (POP-FAMEs), and they’re made up of seven sets of cyclopropane rings. These are triangular rings of three carbon atoms linked together, forcing the bonds to form a 60-degree angle.
The sharp-angle strains contain a lot of potential energy that can be released during combustion. The new gasoline is environmentally friendly and may even be less expensive to generate.
The researchers identified naturally occurring cyclopropane-producing bacteria in the Streptomyces family and then copied the related gene clusters into bacteria that are more lab-friendly.
The ultimate result was POP-FAME molecules known as fuelimycins, which require only one more chemical step to be converted into a ready-to-burn fuel.
Sandia National Labs scientists then ran computer simulations of the generated fuels to determine their attributes in comparison to conventional fuels. According to this analysis, the new fuels would be safe and stable at room temperature, with an energy density of more than 50 megajoules per liter (MJ/L).
That's a significant improvement over current fuels; gasoline has an energy density of roughly 32 MJ/L, while popular jet and rocket fuels have an energy density of around 35 MJ/L. The study was also covered in the journal Joule.