Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Tweaking Ralstonia Eutropha to Synthesize Bio-Butanol

Work is ongoing at MIT and Michigan State University to engineer the bacteria Ralstonia Eutropha to synthesize butanol using H2 and CO2.
The process to produce the alternative fuel — called isobutanol — involves using molecular biology on a bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha, allowing it to use hydrogen to produce liquid fuels, said R. Marc Worden, an MSU chemical engineering professor on the team. The group is receiving $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to design a reactor to test the microorganism’s production of the fuels.

“Microorganisms have been used to make liquid fuels like ethanol for a long time,” Worden said, “This a different type (of liquid fuel). It’s more compatible with automobiles we have now than ethanol is.”

...Isobutanol poses no competition between food and energy, and the microorganisms that produce isobutanol would consume carbon dioxide, a green house gas, Dale said.

Gas is more similar to isobutanol than ethanol, which would allow isobutanol to be distributed through existing pipelines and used in cars with greater ease and fewer modifications.

Compared to the electrical car, isobutanol has the advantage of being able to fuel larger vehicles that could not run on battery power, Dale said.

“The power requirements of some motors, you’ll never get enough power in some batteries to do that,” Dale said, “Planes, long haul trucks, most shipping will never be electrical, so we’re going to have to have liquid fuels.”

The teams’s leader, Anthony Sinskey, a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he expects to know if the commercialization of isobutanol is possible within the next several years.

“Hopefully in three years we will be able to determine the feasibility of going to the next phase of translating basic science into commercial strategies,” Sinskey said.

If the fuel can be commercialized, Worden said he expects it to be marketable within the next decade. _statenews_via_biofuelsdigest
Even if such efforts do not prove commercially viable, they will add volumes of information to the vast and growing encyclopedia of the biofuels enterprise.

Most realistic observors of algal and microbial biofuels expect to see marketable advanced bio-fuels by the year 2020.

In the meantime, thermochemical (gasification and pyrolysis) and fermentation approaches (such as ethanol from cane, maize, and cellulosic biomass) will predominate in the biofuels field.

Once the microbial fuels get their stride, however, it is doubtful that the other approaches will survive except for niche applications. The same applies to low temperature and pressure abiologic catalytic approaches, which are essentially microbial approaches without the cells.

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