Next generation biofuels to use bacteria to convert plant matter directly into isobutene

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today congratulated a team of researchers at the Department's BioEnergy Science Center who have achieved yet another advance in the drive toward next generation biofuels: using bacteria to convert plant matter directly into isobutene, which can be burned in regular car engines.
Advertisement


According to the DOE news release, the work was conducted by researchers at the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Using consolidated bioprocessing, a research team led by James Liao of the University of California at Los Angeles for the first time produced isobutanol directly from cellulose. The team's work, published online in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, represents across-the-board savings in processing costs and time, plus isobutanol is a higher grade of alcohol than ethanol.

"Unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended at any ratio with gasoline and should eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure in tanks or vehicles," said Liao, chancellor's professor and vice chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and a partner in BESC. "Plus, it may be possible to use isobutanol directly in current engines without modification."

This research is part of a broad portfolio of work the Department of Energy is doing to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and create new economic opportunities for rural America.

"Today's announcement is yet another sign of the rapid progress we are making in developing the next generation of biofuels that can help reduce our oil dependence," said Secretary Chu. "This is a perfect example of the promising opportunity we have to create a major new industry—one based on bio-material such as wheat and rice straw, corn stover, lumber wastes, and plants specifically developed for bio-fuel production that require far less fertilizer and other energy inputs. But we must continue with an aggressive research and development effort."

According to Dr. Liao, compared to ethanol, higher alcohols such as isobutanol are better candidates for gasoline replacement because they have an energy density, octane value and Reid vapor pressure - a measurement of volatility - that is much closer to gasoline.

For the record, while cellulosic biomass like corn stover and switchgrass is abundant and cheap, it is much more difficult to utilize than corn and sugar cane. This is due in large part because of recalcitrance, or a plant's natural defenses to being chemically dismantled.

Adding to the complexity is the fact biofuel production that involves several steps - pretreatment, enzyme treatment and fermentation - is more costly than a method that combines biomass utilization and the fermentation of sugars to biofuel into a single process.

Still, not using a food chain commodity for fuel has to be better on the food bill.

-----------------------
About the Author: After 39 years in the auto industry as a design engineer, Frank Sherosky now trades stocks and writes articles, books and ebooks via authorfrank.com, but may be contacted here by email: [email protected]

________________________________________________
Additional Reading:
Cyclone Power to run patented steam engine in land speed record attempt
Auto industry compromise with expensive EVs fails the masses
Scuderi Air-Hybrid Engine technology setting up to challenge electric hybrids
Cella Energy achievement may make hydrogen fill-up a reality
Stop-start technology to advance more micro hybrids by 2016
Four alternate engine technologies for 2011 and beyond


Sign-up to our email newsletter for daily perspectives on car design, trends, events and news, not found elsewhere.