Monday, August 2, 2010

Company Announces Breakthrough in Converting Plants to Gasoline in One Step

Biofuels E-Coli

Using a recently identified gene from e. coli, researchers think they may have jumped the last hurdle in the race to create a commercially viable biofuel.

Back when biofuels were in vogue and everybody in the industry, as well as what seemed like a majority of politicians, were singing kumbaya in the name of solving all our woes, California company LS9 was seen as one of the rising stars in the next generation biofuels movement. The reason: they were (and are still) developing a genetically engineered microbe that can take raw plant material and turn it directly into a fuel (diesel and/or gasoline) that you would be able to drop into your existing fuel tank and your car wouldn't so much as even notice. This type of biofuel is called a "drop-in" fuel.

Imagine that: a facility that accepts any kind of woody waste or raw plant material as input and produces tanks and tanks of gasoline as its output on a daily basis�nothing else needed and no other steps in between. If it could be developed, you might start to grasp how revolutionary such a process would be.

Of course, since those heydays of biofuel in-vogueness, biofuels have become mired in the ugly world of Corn Belt politics, controversies over food vs. fuel, land use issues, and debates about whether or not biofuels are even better for the environment than fossil fuels to begin with. Looking back, it was amazing how quickly the promise of biofuels all fell apart. But that didn't stop companies like LS9 from continuing to do research on what are still, fundamentally, potentially game changing advances.

And now LS9, in a paper published in the prestigious scientific journal "Science," says that their last hurdle to actually creating some kind of super bug that can do what they set out to do�change raw plant matter into fuel�has been jumped. The discovery opens the door to completely engineering a microbe that can fulfill the promise of a cheap, renewable drop-in fuel made from materials that don't compete with food.

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