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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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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

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