Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fuel from Bacteria

The Royal Society for Chemistry reports on the development of a strain of bacteria that produce a nifty chemical -- Isobutyraldehide:
Why Isobutyraldehyde? Well, it's...
...a precursor to several useful chemicals, including isobutanol, which has great potential as a fuel alternative to petrol.
And what's more:
'Here, we were successful in engineering CO2-eating bacteria to produce isobutyraldehyde very efficiently,' says James Liao, who led the work at the University of California, Los Angeles, US. 'Our process is around 10 times faster than hydrogen production and about 100 times faster than genetically engineered ethanol production.' 

Importantly, extracting the final product from the mix is a simple process. 'The fuel vaporises to the gas phase easily, making separation extremely simple. Afterwards, we can liquefy it again by simple condensation,' Liao told Chemistry World.  

This process helps keep the bacteria alive longer, as they are not exposed to large amounts of chemicals. 'The bacteria are very stable, and in our flasks without much environmental control, the bacteria continued to produce for about 10 days,' Liao says.  

That last bit is important.  The chemicals we want for burning and chemical feedstock are almost always waste products.  If they build up in a high enough concentration, they poison the organisms producing them.  Just try to get yeast to ferment past about 12% by volume.  If you can pull the waste products away from the bacteria on an ongoing basis, you can keep them from poisoning themselves and run the process on a continuing basis.

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