Fuel From Microbes, Part I
It’s the perfect give-and-take relationship: Bacteria and yeast break down what we don’t want—organic waste and biomass—and excrete what we do want—biofuels like ethanol and butanol.
Recently, ethanol has been heralded as a cleaner, more energy-efficient fuel than gasoline, and yeast has emerged as a boon to fuel researchers because it naturally produces ethanol from sugars, an ability that traditionally has been used to leaven bread and ferment beer.
At MIT, scientists have engineered a new yeast strain that can survive in high levels of sugar and ethanol, producing 50 percent more ethanol than its natural cousins. But biofuelpotential does not stop there. UCLA scientists have created E. Coli that produce butanol, which packs even more energy than ethanol.
Fuel From Microbes, Part II
Researchers in Silicon Valley may also have found a promising alternative fuel source from a tiny helper. By genetically engineering bacteria and yeast, they were able to convert fatty acids into petroleum replacement products. In this process, the organisms can produce hydrocarbon-based fuels from organic waste. In addition to being renewable, this "Oil 2.0," as the researchers call it, is also carbon neutral—the microbes use about the same amount of carbon to produce the oil as will be emitted when it burns.