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Biotech Transportation Science

Making Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria 185

Debuting on the front page, Lifyre writes "Scientists at Tulane have found a natural bacteria (dubbed TU-103) that produces butanol. While butanol-producing bacteria aren't new, there are a few important points about this particular bacterium. It is the first natural bacteria that converts cellulose directly to butanol without the cellulose needing to be processed into sugar first, and it can do this in the presence of oxygen, which kills other butanol-producing bacteria. The simplification of the process could significantly decrease the production costs of butanol. This bacteria could allow virtually any plant product, such as newspaper or grass clippings, to be used to produce fuel for conventional vehicles."
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Making Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria

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  • Re:Alchohol? (Score:5, Informative)

    by eparker05 ( 1738842 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:07PM (#37259926)

    First off, if it is n-butanol that is being produced, the water solubility of n-butanol (at 25 C) would only allow a ~6% concentration, thus the rest would float to the surface and would be easily skimmed off in a moderately pure state. Now I don't know the temperature dependence of the solubility so perhaps this wouldn't be practical at fermentation temperatures.

    Similar research is being done by Dr. Shota Atsumi et. al; they produced an organism with an engineered metabolic pathway which can produce isobutyraldehyde. This compound has a lower boiling point such that at the elevated temperatures of fermentation it is easily distilled from the culture without having to kill or filter the bacteria. Again, the issue of culture toxicity due to the metabolic product is avoided through in situ purification of the product.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by OSU ChemE ( 974181 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:13PM (#37259990) Journal
    Yes, cellulose is a polymer of simple sugars. However most organisms lack the enzymes to break the chain up into its individual units. Ruminants and termites have symbiotic bacteria that digest it for them, and some species of fungus can break down cellulose (think mushrooms on a fallen tree) but as it stands, using cellulosic feedstocks require breaking up the chain via enzymes (expensive) or acids (nasty) so that bacteria can utilize it. And yes, newspaper does burn quite well, but I'd like to see you stuff it in your gas tank.
  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:28PM (#37260134)

    Using bacteria (or any other process) to rearrange the chemical bonds of a substance doesn't come free. It consumes energy.

    You mean like photosynthesis?

  • by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:52PM (#37260290)

    Food crops used as fuel are different than fuel crops. Bamboo can grow like wild. All the leftover bits from corn production can be turned into fuel while the corn itself remains food. Plenty of hardy grasses can grow places that we'd never try to grow food. Almost every suburb in the country produces large quantities of grass clippings on land that won't be turned (back) into farmland any time soon.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @09:16PM (#37260454)

    "First, cellulose is a sugar."

    No. It's a polymer of simple sugars.

    What you said is like saying starch is a sugar. It's also a polymer of simple sugars.

    Take a look at: []

    You might as well say protein is an amino acid since it's a polymer of amino acids. It's the same thinking and just as wrong.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers