Researchers Engineer E.Coli Bacteria to Produce Renewable Propane Fuel

Propane Gas Tanks - Image Credit: Shutterstock

A team of scientists from the University of Turku and the Imperial College London have engineered gut bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) for generation of renewable propane fuel. These bacteria are harmless and the novel method can lead to development of an alternate fuel instead of fossil fuels.

Propane is a by-product that is produced during refining of petrol and processing of natural gas. It makes up a major part of liquid petroleum gas (LPG). LPG is widely used for stoves, motor vehicles and central heating applications.

Bacteria able to produce propane could become a completely renewable source of this widely used fuel. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The researchers selected propane as it could be easily transformed from gaseous into a liquid state and could be easily transported, stored and used. Furthermore, it already has a global market.

Fatty acids are converted by biological processes into cell membranes and the researchers utilized E. coli for interrupting this process.

The fatty acids were channeled by the enzymes into a different biological pathway and this made the E. coli bacteria to produce renewable propane fuel in place of cell membranes. 

For interruption of the process, the researchers reported a new thioesterase enzyme variant that they used to target fatty acids to release them from the normal process. CAR, another bacterial enzyme, was used to change butyric acid, a compound with a nasty smell, into butyraldehyde. The enzyme aldehyde-deformylating oxygenase (ADO) was then added for production of propane.

Imperial College London scientists used electrons to stimulate ADO. If this novel system could be put into photosynthetic bacteria then it may be able to convert solar energy directly into chemical fuel.

However, the amount of propane produced was not sufficient for commercial production. The scientists are presently conducting research to improve the synthesis process.

This study has been published in Nature Communications journal.

Alessandro Pirolini

Written by

Alessandro Pirolini

Alessandro has a BEng (hons) in Material Science and Technology, specialising in Magnetic Materials, from the University of Birmingham. After graduating, he completed a brief spell working for an aerosol manufacturer and then pursued his love for skiing by becoming a Ski Rep in the Italian Dolomites for 5 months. Upon his return to the UK, Alessandro decided to use his knowledge of Material Science to secure a position within the Editorial Team at AZoNetwork. When not at work, Alessandro is often at Chill Factore, out on his road bike or watching Juventus win consecutive Italian league titles.

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