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Biotech

Researchers Harness E. Coli To Produce Propane 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the fill-the-tank dept.
Rambo Tribble writes A team of British and Finnish scientists have used the common bacteria Escherichia coli to produce the environmentally-friendly fuel propane. By introducing enzymes to modify the bacteria's process for producing cell membranes, they were able directly produce fuel-grade propane. While commercial application is some years off, the process is being hailed as a cheap, sustainable alternative to deriving the gas from fossil fuel production. As researcher Patrik Jones is quoted as saying, "Fossil fuels are a finite resource and...we are going to have to come up with new ways to meet increasing energy demands."
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Researchers Harness E. Coli To Produce Propane

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  • Boy scouts and others were way ahead
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hank Hill wants to know, because he sells propane and propane accessories.

  • E.Coli (Score:5, Funny)

    by rmdingler (1955220) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @08:15AM (#47824029)
    An intestinal bacteria, you say.

    I will have to claim prior art. My family has been manufacturing methane the same way for generations.

    • Re:E.Coli (Score:5, Funny)

      by Bloke down the pub (861787) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:43AM (#47824669)

      I will have to claim prior fart. My family has been manufacturing methane the same way for generations.

      FTFY

    • This is Propane!

      Now if we add this to cows and pigs, we will have to fire proof all the farms. Any industrial accident and we will see pigs fly, albeit with rocket propulsion and not the typical way one might think pigs would fly.

      • This is Propane!

        Now if we add this to cows and pigs, we will have to fire proof all the farms.

        Indeed we do! http://timesofindia.indiatimes... [indiatimes.com] "LONDON: A farm shed in Rasdorf, Germany, burst into flames after a heard of 90 cows produced enough combustible methane gas from just their farts. According to the local police, a static electric charge caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames, the Daily Star reported. Even though one cow can emit up to 500 litres of methane every day, fortunately, explosions due to cow flatulence is not frequent."

      • Not the typical way one might think pigs would fly?

        Whew! Thank goodness. I was starting to worry about Al Queda style pig terrorists crashing massive jets into Smithfield.

        rgb

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Any industrial accident and we will see pigs fly, albeit with rocket propulsion and not the typical way one might think pigs would fly.

        I LOL'd.

        The image of a pig on propane thrust will keep me laughing for a few hours.

        Piiiigs .... iiiiiinnnnnnnnn .... spaaaaaaaaaace!! *splat*

    • by bwcbwc (601780)

      Oh great, now when your family sets fire to their farts, they'll blow up the whole block instead of just scorching the carpet.

  • A environment-friendly way of producing something does not mean that the product is suddenly environmentelly-friendly to begin with. If I get a set of bacteria to produce gasoline, would this suddenly be called 'the envrionmentally-friendly fuel gasoline'?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tomhath (637240)
      Well, if you had RTFA you would know that propane contains less carbon than most commonly used fuels (e.g gasoline). So recycling carbon and hydrogen into propane is environmentally friendly. You can learn all kinds of interesting stuff by taking a few seconds to actually read the citations...
    • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @08:49AM (#47824217)

      "The environmentally-friendly fuel propane" doesn't refer to the method of production. Propane is easier to burn cleanly than gasoline or kerosene, and it's not as significant a greenhouse gas as methane. It still produces CO2 when burned, of course, but it's carbon-neutral (assuming you aren't using a fossil feedstock, which would seem kind of pointless).

      Gasoline produced through fermentation would be carbon-neutral as well, but it would still burn dirtier.

    • by Barefoot Monkey (1657313) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:06AM (#47824329)

      A environment-friendly way of producing something does not mean that the product is suddenly environmentelly-friendly to begin with.

      Not in general, but it does if the production is the main reason why the product isn't environmentally-friendly to begin with. If you have - just as an example - grass which captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make cellulose, which then gets fed to bacteria to create propane, which gets burnt to produce carbon dioxide (and short-lived carbon monoxide) then you have a cycle with no significant net effect on the atmosphere. This is more environmentally-friendly than digging up fossil fuels, shipping them across the world, and burning them, which pumps into the air carbon which had until then been sequestered underground since before recorded history.

      At the end of the day octane is octane and propane is propane, but what matters is whether it can be produced/consumed in a carbon-neutral manner or if we're just digging up more crude oil.

      • Note that the FTA's bacteria eats fatty acids, not cellulose as I used in my example, but the same principle applies.

  • Is there a better write-up somewhere? It only says it uses fatty acids. What is the source of these fatty acids?

    • IT'S MADE FROM PEOPLE!

    • Glucose (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @09:08AM (#47824339)

      Here's the abstract: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140902/ncomms5731/full/ncomms5731.html

      From one of the diagrams it seems that they are taking glucose as the primary source, i.e., pretty normal (for a laboratory model) E. coli food. I would also have preferred them to come out and say it explicitly.

      Interesting quote from another writeup at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/09/03/3478373/propane-from-e-coli/ : “At the moment, we don’t have a full grasp of exactly how the fuel molecules are made, so we are now trying to find out exactly how this process unfolds,” he said. “I hope that over the next 5 to 10 years we will be able to achieve commercially viable processes that will sustainably fuel our energy demands.”

      • by trout007 (975317)

        Thank you.

        I managed to get the full article. They authors do state this is not an entire process but only a way to take glucose from other process and turn it into propane which should be easier to separate from a reactor since it's a gas.

      • by sycodon (149926)

        5 to 10 years away...that's better than Fusion at least.

  • Am I only one to instantly remember this novel [wikipedia.org]?
  • would be a reasonably critical part of the e-coli staying alive...

  • Apparently, some scientist from UK and Finland.

  • Sure, there are some trivial conversion issues, but overall it's a well-known problem. For modern propane systems which use injectors it requires less equipment replacement than ever, only recoding. And you just drop your biomass in a big bag and let it ferment. It's not just carbon-neutral, it's carbon-negative (if you can keep from fouling your membranes and thus you don't need to be replacing them repeatedly) because some of the carbon stays behind and is returned to the soil in the resulting fertilizer

    • by afidel (530433)

      Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

        The idea is to burn it instead of propane, not to release it into the atmosphere.

        • by afidel (530433)

          So I did some research, natural gas is 26% [eia.gov] of total energy production but the methane leaked through use is roughly 10% [epa.gov] of total greenhouse gas emissions, so replacing all coal and petroleum with methane would only result in an ~70% reduction in total greenhouse gas effects, using propane from carbon neutral sources would be closer to 98%.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            So far it involves at least two processes, though. Actually getting to propane hasn't been shown to be doable without spending some energy.

  • So calling it "environmentally friendly" is a bit of a stretch. It's environmentally moderate, perhaps.
    • by doconnor (134648)

      If the propane is made from CO2 that is absorbed from the air, like plants are able to, then it is carbon neutral.

  • ...let's be accurate: Fossil Fuels are NOT a "finite resource", just that replenishment takes a very long time.

    • by dbc (135354)

      sort of. Actually most of the oil in the Earh was produced during two distinct mass-extinction events. So it really isn't a continuous process. More like:

      1. Mass extinction event.
      2. Wait a couple hundred million years.
      3. Profit.

  • by morgauxo (974071)

    Is there any danger of this getting into anyone's intestines and living there? I wouldn't want propane farts!

  • Why are all these wonderful solutions to all the worlds ills always "commercial application is some years off,"?

Some people have a great ambition: to build something that will last, at least until they've finished building it.

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