Mention the term "e. coli" here in the US, and one gets visions of sick cows and poisonous burgers. Reference e. coli with some groundbreaking work performed by UK's University of Exeter, and things get a little more positive.

The university, with some funding from Shell, created a plant-based biofuel that's "almost identical" to conventional diesel. The fuel not only requires less of a blend with petroleum relative to biodiesels made from plants but may eliminate the corrosive effects other biofuels have on engines.

According to a more authoritative explanation from the News Scientists, the e. coli is combined with glucose to create the properly sized hydrocarbons that more or less mimic those compatible with engines. So far, the new fuel's being produced in "tiny" quantities but, hey, you have to start somewhere. Check out the article from the University below.
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Bugs produce diesel on demand

It sounds like science fiction but a team from the University of Exeter, with support from Shell, has developed a method to make bacteria produce diesel on demand.

While the technology still faces many significant commercialisation challenges, the diesel, produced by special strains of E. coli bacteria, is almost identical to conventional diesel fuel.
This means that it does not need to be blended with petroleum products as is often required by biodiesels derived from plant oils. It also means that the diesel can be used with current supplies in existing infrastructure because engines, pipelines and tankers do not need to be modified. Biofuels with these characteristics are being termed 'drop-ins'.

Professor John Love from Biosciences at the University of Exeter said: "Producing a commercial biofuel that can be used without needing to modify vehicles has been the goal of this project from the outset. Replacing conventional diesel with a carbon neutral biofuel in commercial volumes would be a tremendous step towards meeting our target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Global demand for energy is rising and a fuel that is independent of both global oil price fluctuations and political instability is an increasingly attractive prospect."

E. coli bacteria naturally turn sugars into fat to build their cell membranes. Synthetic fuel oil molecules can be created by harnessing this natural oil production process. Large scale manufacturing using E. coli as the catalyst is already commonplace in the pharmaceutical industry and, although the biodiesel is currently produced in tiny quantities in the laboratory, work will continue to see if this may be a viable commercial pathway to 'drop in' fuels.

Rob Lee from Shell Projects & Technology said: "We are proud of the work being done by Exeter in using advanced biotechnologies to create the specific hydrocarbon molecules that we know will continue to be in high demand in the future. While the technology still faces several hurdles to commercialisation, by exploring this new method of creating biofuel, along with other intelligent technologies, we hope they could help us to meet the challenges of limiting the rise in carbon dioxide emissions while responding to the growing global requirement for transport fuel."

This work was supported by a grant from Shell Research Ltd and a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Industry Interchange Partnership Grant.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 27 Comments
      ga7smi
      • 1 Year Ago
      nearly all strains of E. Coli are harmless - sounds like a ridiculous fuel source - alcohol is real expensive anyway then add the cost of growing this bacteria
      • 1 Year Ago
      It sounds too funny.
      goodoldgorr
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is a costly method using plant oil compared to growing green algae. There is much more quantities to be have with algae and i think that it is easier to process.
        ga7smi
        • 1 Year Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        its still carbon and costs more per BTU to make gasoline
        Reggie
        • 1 Year Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        British Airways and the US bioenergy company Solena are to establish Europe's first green jet fuel plant in the East End of London. When it is up and running in 2014, the factory will turn 500,000 tonnes of landfill waste – including household and industrial rubbish – into 16 million gallons of carbon-neutral aviation fuel every year. It will produce enough fuel to power all of BA's flights from nearby City Airport twice over, And with 95 per cent fewer emissions than traditional kerosene. BA guaranteed to buy all of its output. It will employ up to 1,200 people. Alongside the reduction in carbon from the jet fuel itself, it will also cut the methane produced from landfill and generate 20 megawatts of electricity per year as a byproduct. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/british-airways-to-fly-jets-on-green-fuel-made-from-londons-rubbish-by-2014-1900732.html Yep lots of ways folk are getting there, every little bit helps goodoldgorr.
      jwyola
      • 1 Year Ago
      Now you car exhaust is going to fart Ecoli, and now we hear from the Cock Robins that all Ecoli is not harmful,,,hmmm...unless it is found on a beach or in someones' well
      babby201
      • 1 Year Ago
      So then we can gas up a 'Jack in the Box ' ?
      gosoaring10
      • 1 Year Ago
      This sounds like trouble for those who wash down their burgers with a swig of diesel.
        Reggie
        • 1 Year Ago
        @gosoaring10
        It will wash out all that lard out, that clogs up your arteries.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      I like how Danny calls 'New Scientist' 'News Scientists' twice here. Excellent job, i'm giving you a raise.
      Jesse Gurr
      • 1 Year Ago
      What happens when there is a leak at the refinery? Not sure I like the potential for E. Coli contaminating the area where they are at. Sounds like a huge liability. "Mention the term "e. coli" here in the US, and one gets visions of sick cows and poisonous burgers. " Don't forget contaminated lettuce and spinach. wait, wasn't that mad cow disease?
        babby201
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jesse Gurr
        E coli at the salad bar as well as other nasties form sitting around chopped up and being breathed on by minimum wage crack addicted kitchen help. Mad cow ? well sometimes after a certain age they do that , especially when the kids leave home.
        Lindsey
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jesse Gurr
        There are non-pathogenic strains of E. coli -- not all of them cause disease in humans. Water is tested for coliforms all the time anyway and you'd probably find E. coli in several untreated water sources. Try testing a sample of water from an untreated source with Coliscan easygel, and you'll see that gel light up like a Christmas tree from coliforms!
      peteswarr
      • 1 Year Ago
      I always told my sister in law, who is a microbiologist, to find the critters that made the oil in the first place. She stuck with aids research instead.
      BERT
      • 1 Year Ago
      I GET THE SHITZ OF THE BIG HYPE, BUT NO RESULTS IN THIS LIFETIME.
      raktmn
      • 1 Year Ago
      I can't wait for Marco to come and post his usual diatribe about how horrible bio-fuels are and how they are a dead-end that will never go anywhere. Followed of course by Marco's effussive praise of how awesome Shell is all of their great research they do into bio-fuels, and how super green that makes Shell and all the oil companies. All while Marco bashes the gov't for spending money on bio-fuels, while ignoring that the vast majority of these projects like this one Shell is doing is either fully or partially funded through gov't research grants or tax credits, and it is the gov't that should be getting the credit for all the research they fund. To recap the Marco insanity: 1) Bio-fuel is bad and a dead-end. 2) Oil companies are good and green because they do bio-fuel research. 3) The gov't is bad because they spend money on bio-fuel research, even though Marco refuses to acknowledge that it is the money that the oil companies use to fund the bio-fuel research that Marco praises them for doing. I can't wait for Marco to come and post about something completely different, like bunker oil or something, in order to evade addressing everything I just posted. Poor, predictable Marco!
        Marcopolo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @raktmn
        PR/raktmn You are a pretty weirdly obsessive sort of guy ! But, thanks for telling me what I'm going to say, before I say it ! As usual in your strange desire to be be offensive, you completely (and deliberately) misrepresent me. I have absolutely no opposition to bio-fuels. In fact I have investments in bio-fuel feedstock production in several countries. In the UK I installed a bio-mass generator that produce a significant amount of power from farm waste. (not all that economical, but very environmental). In the past I've posted comments praising the promising technology offered by the Virent Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin , which by using patented catalytic chemistry, converts soluble biomass-derived sugars into products molecularly identical to those made with petroleum. Including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and chemicals used for plastics and fibers. Virent partners, Royal Dutch Shell, Cargill, Coca-Cola and Honda have the resources and expertise to accelerate commercialization of this sort of technology. But none of this research justifies the uneconomic, wasteful, US corn-based ethanol industry ! The US Corn-based ethanol industry has consumed billions of taxpayers dollars, produced very little value, has continued to hurt the environment, and now requires a government mandate to force people to use the product ! In your obsession to praise your favoured US political party, you seem to ignore that Royal Dutch Shell would be be very surprised to learn that they can acquire US Government money to fund research at the University of Exeter ! ( the University of Exeter is located in the UK, not the US !) . Unlike you, I don't care who funds valuable environmental research ! Obsessively, worrying about whether or not researchers are politically correct or not on your list of enemies ! Heck, if North Korea's Kim Jong-un suddenly announced he had genuinely discovered a valid cure for Leukemia, I wouldn't refuse his discovery, and begrudge him the Nobel Prize because I don't like his politics's ! It saddens me to observe that you (or anyone) can dismiss the massive toxic pollution , environmental havoc, and millions of deaths and illness created by the use of bunker oil, as of no importance !. You would do better to look at your own priorities instead of trying to post pre-emptive abusive posts about me.
        Reggie
        • 1 Year Ago
        @raktmn
        I think Marco is one of the good guys like most that post here, his heart is always in the right place. On a different note some good news from the EU today they are totally banning the use of pesticides that have been killing off a lot the bee population in Europe. About time without wild species such as honey bees responsible for pollinating around one-third of the world's crop production we would all be in deep trouble.
          Marco Polo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Reggie
          @ Reggie Thank you. You are quite right, the deterioration in the health of the world Bee population has been a very under-regarded field of environmental study. Did you ever see the 1997 film, Ulee's Gold starring Peter Fonda ?
      Robert Brooks
      • 1 Year Ago
      you'll never be able to compete with big oil. Not a 150mpg carburetor, not new technologies on bio fuels. They offer these people god awful amounts of money sooner or later to take a back seat or conveniently loose the blueprints.
        Marcopolo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Robert Brooks
        @ Robert Brooks This research is being conducted by an oil company ! Oil companies already possess huge multi-billion dollar investments in bio-fuel production. This would be a very good product for an oil company.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Robert Brooks
        Haha, yes you will. Once big oil is out of oil, they are in trouble :)
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