Bacteria are being used to convert plant material – including typical farm waste -- directly into isobutanol, which can be burned in regular car engines with a heat value higher than ethanol and similar to gasoline, the U.S. Department of Energy says.

"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," says U.S. Energy Secretary Steven 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.”

He says the advance of science and biotechnology in the past decade “puts us on the precipice of a revolution in biofuels.”

The work was conducted by researchers at the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center 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," says Mr. Liao, chancellor's professor and vice chairman 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." 

SOURCE: centralvalleybusinesstimes


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