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LS9 and DOE researchers have modified the start-ups biofuel bacteria to produce many new compounds and to also be able to digest cellulose, found in plant waste.  (Source: University of Saskatchewan)

Bacterial or algae based biofuels could one day offer inexpensive fuel for land, air, and sea transportation needs -- no batteries or fuel cells required.  (Source: Dupont)
DOE has paired with LS9 to tweak and improve the company's genetic engineered design

The bacteria Escherichia coli is a very well studied organism and an ideal starting point for genetic engineering a microorganism to accomplish something useful.  Unsurprisingly, San Francisco, California-based biofuel startup LS9 chose the microorganism as the starting point for their biofuel push.  The E. Coli microbe, commonly found in feces, was modified by the startup to contain new enzymatic pathways that converted part of the microbe's sugary diet into hydrocarbon chains (biodiesel), which were then excreted.

Now the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute has paired with LS9 to tweak the microbe and further improve and validate the company's approach.  Despite the enormous potential, the technology is still in its nascent stages.  Describes Eric Steen, a researcher with JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division states, "There is still much more research to do before this process becomes commercially feasible."

To help improve the bacteria's prospects, the JBEI researchers -- Jay Keasling, the Chief Executive Officer for JBEI; Mr. Steen; Yisheng Kang; and Gregory Bokinsky -- threw their genetic toolkit at the bacteria, adding a host of novel pathways to produce additional structurally tailored fatty esters (biodiesel), alcohols and waxes directly from glucose.

With a greater array of products secured, the researchers next focused on converting sugars other than glucose.  To accomplish this the researchers added hemicellulases, special enzymes that digest the tough cellulose polysaccharides that typically go to waste. 

Writes Steen, "Engineering E. coli to produce hemicellulases enables the microbes to produce fuels directly from the biomass of plants that are not used as food for humans or feed for animals. Currently, biochemical processing of cellulosic biomass requires costly enzymes for sugar liberation. By giving the E. coli the capacity to ferment both cellulose and hemicellulose without the addition of expensive enzymes, we can improve the economics of cellulosic biofuels."

The results were published in the January 28, 2010 edition of the prestigious Nature journal.

Continuing ahead the researchers see much work to be done.  Foremost among the objectives are maximizing the speed and efficiency at which the microbes process the biofuels.

Some will certain question whether it's worth it for the government and private sector to be pouring so much money into funding biofuels research.  However, they must consider that biologically produced biofuels are unarguably one of the strongest and most promising cornerstones of energy research.  After all, the modern global industrial economy was built on the backbone of naturally fixed solar energy in the form of hydrocarbons (oil, coal, and natural gas), and being able to replenish these stocks in a cheap carbon neutral manner could solve mankind's energy problems in the short term -- and that could be enormously lucrative and beneficial.

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By SublimeSimplicity on 1/28/2010 1:24:49 PM , Rating: 5
Good to hear that **** works.

RE: Alright!
By FITCamaro on 1/28/2010 1:41:23 PM , Rating: 4
This is the direction we should be going. Looking to replace oil with grown oil. If you have to grow plants to produce fuel, then when its burned it is emissions nuetral since everything being put into the air, came from the air.

To bad our government is full of idiots and won't push this as our energy policy instead of expensive and toxic electric cars fueled by expensive, environment destroying, and inefficient solar and wind power.

RE: Alright!
By Smartless on 1/28/2010 1:58:16 PM , Rating: 2
Yep and at least it won't require huge infrastructure changes. Though the auto industry (other than Europe) would need to switch to TDI engines. Honda's irony is they thought battery was dumb and were going to switch to a diesel hybrid Accord but scrapped everything and are now trying to revamp their hybrids and plug-ins. Sad.

And hey, one thing about government, at least their consistent. I mean before electric cars they pushed ethanol.

RE: Alright!
By Lord 666 on 1/28/2010 2:14:33 PM , Rating: 2
Nailed it on the head about Honda. WTF would they cancel the diesel Accord because it was "too expensive" when there was real interest. Yet, Honda releases an ugly looking Crosstour that will likely be a flop costing Honda millions.

So what is more "expensive", a car that will be a sales loser or a car that sells well, but slightly more to maintain than petrol?

RE: Alright!
By stromgald30 on 1/28/2010 4:48:53 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah Honda was on the right track. They should've stuck to their guns longer. But, I think their market research showed that diesels still aren't popular enough and with the whole Insight fiasco vs. the Prius, they weren't keen on losing much more money.

RE: Alright!
By ZHENDHIDE4 on 1/28/10, Rating: -1
RE: Alright!
By talikarni on 1/28/2010 8:15:55 PM , Rating: 2
I mean before electric cars they pushed ethanol.

exactly and look at all these small engine and older vehicles needing massive repairs or early deaths because of it...

Just look up any combination of wording relating to boats, 2 cycle engines, lawnmowers and ethanol and you will get flooded with stories about engines dying after 1 or 2 years, fuel lines disintegrating, fuel tanks falling apart.... all because of Ethanol and this friggin federal requirement...

I purposely drive 30 minutes out of my way to hit the ONE gas pump that is advertised as "no ethanol" both for my main vehicle (2004 Dodge SUV)and all my gas equipment like riding lawnmower, emergency generator, gas weedeater, and so on.

Ethanol is toned down alcohol so it's got a very high octane rating but ethanol has a much lower BTU rating than gas so when it combusts it's energy output is less.
1gal 87 octane - 125000BTU
Gasohol 90%-Gas 10%-Ethanol 120900BTU
Pure Ethanol - 84600BTU

RE: Alright!
By Laereom on 1/28/2010 2:09:11 PM , Rating: 2
While I do agree in general that microbial biodiesel is the way to go, this does, as you mention, use grown fuel.

Basically, we take energy from the sun, fertilizers, tractors, and so forth, convert it to complex structures, then break those structures down and rebuild them into complex structures yet again.

The real promise is in companies like Sapphire Energy or Valcent who use bacteria or algae to convert sunlight and CO2 directly into crude petroleum or biodiesel. All you need is brackish water, sunlight, and some nice bubbly CO2, and you can have an almost fully automated oil pipeline from any desert of your choice. California could actually have an energy surplus, provided their environmentalist lobby doesn't disallow it on the grounds that it would harm the 1 lizard per square kilometer in the desert.

RE: Alright!
By nafhan on 1/28/2010 2:33:55 PM , Rating: 3
You're confusing this with aspects of Ethanol production. The ability of this bacteria to convert cellulose, rather than just simple sugars, means that waste plant matter (corn husks, wood chips, etc.) can be used. In other words, they're turning trash, not food, into fuel. So arguments about fertilizer, tractors, etc. don't generally apply.

RE: Alright!
By porkpie on 1/28/2010 3:35:35 PM , Rating: 2
Any plant able to do this on conomically-viable bais is going to require a goodly scale operation. It'll have SOME sort of emissions, and therefore -- no matter how small those emissions or how safe it really is -- it'll be opposed by the environmental lobby.

RE: Alright!
By nafhan on 1/28/2010 4:31:46 PM , Rating: 1
I'm pretty sure you could find an environmental group to oppose just about anything. The fact that something is overall better than the alternative doesn't seem to matter if it conflicts with their narrow area of interest.

RE: Alright!
By Sooticus on 1/28/2010 7:16:47 PM , Rating: 2
We could still end up stuffing up our farmland by removing too much carbon from the soil. All of that "trash" is kind of important to sustainable agriculture.

As long as the cellulose they use comes from plants that take carbon from the air rather than the soil, things should be pretty OK. This unfortunately rules out corn and some other big staple crops, but there are still plenty of sources...

But dont worry, I'm sure we'll find a way to take a brilliant concept and piece of technology such as this and completely stuff up its implementation through cost cutting , greed and political kickbacks...

RE: Alright!
By porkpie on 1/28/2010 9:39:56 PM , Rating: 2
"We could still end up stuffing up our farmland by removing too much carbon from the soil."

How so? Do you have any idea how many gigatonnes of carbon are in a single square mile? Worse, any carbon we take out of the soil would go into the air...where the extra CO2 would encourage plant growth, thereby putting more carbon right back into the soil.

RE: Alright!
By sigmatau on 1/28/2010 6:21:31 PM , Rating: 1
This is the direction we should be going. Looking to replace oil with grown oil. If you have to grow plants to produce fuel, then when its burned it is emissions nuetral since everything being put into the air, came from the air.

What? I think you need to lay off the "sciency" stuff you learn. How is it emissions neutral.....not even sure why I am bothering but that just floored me. Growing something and then burning it does not make it neutral. We will never "grow" all or even close to all of our oil. The public will not allow for our food prices to go up because either food is being used to produce oil, or less land is available for food because it is used to grow a crop to turn it into oil. No way this will happen.

GM has been selling ethonal capable cars/trucks in the millions for years, yet you don't see people rushing to replace their gas with it. GM did this, btw, to boost their fleet's fuel economy as a e85 vechicle is nearly double calculated if it is modified (100 bucks or so) to use E85. Not bad, spend $100 and almost "double" the fuel economy of a vehicle in the government's eyes.

Any fuel other than something that is made of food or grown on farm land will never take off. I love v8 my self and my next car will have one, but come on people! Oil is dying and we need something else fast.

RE: Alright!
By porkpie on 1/28/2010 9:43:32 PM , Rating: 2
" Growing something and then burning it does not make it neutral. "

Lol, of course it does. If you doubt it, try this simple experiment. Earn $5, then go and spend it. Then figure out how much you're ahead.

"GM has been selling ethonal capable cars/trucks in the millions for years, yet you don't see people rushing to replace their gas with it"

Because corn-based ethanol is essentially a scam, nothing but a way to turn corn into votes in the Iowa primaries. Growing oil right from gene-tailored bacteria, now, that could be several times more efficient, and actually make for a fuel cheaper than gas from natural petroleum.

"come on people! Oil is dying and we need something else fast. "

Funny people told me the same thing in 1975, but here we are today with oil reserves bigger than we had back then.

RE: Alright!
By mxnerd on 1/29/2010 12:51:43 AM , Rating: 2
Science is try and error. No one can do it right for the first time.

I would rather government spend money on research to find all kinds of new alternative energies and find the best ones (not best one) instead nonsense war, and it needs time.

Different geological environment will require different solution, one size does not fit all.

RE: Alright!
By rburnham on 2/1/2010 3:15:21 PM , Rating: 2
Best crap I have read all day.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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