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Science

Researchers Discover Enzyme That Harnesses Light To Make Hydrocarbons (acs.org) 55

Researchers from the Biosciences and Biotechnologies Institute of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission have discovered a new light-driven enzyme, christened fatty acid photodecarboxylase (FAP), that uses blue light to drive the removal of carboxyl groups from fatty acids to form alkanes or alkenes. Such an enzyme could be used as fuel with no further modification. The Biological SCENE reports: FAP joins a select group of so-called photoenzymes, including DNA-repair enzymes called photolyases, that use light for catalysis on their own rather than functioning as part of a larger complex such as photosystems I or II, which are used by plants and algae for photosynthesis. FAP contains flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD), which commonly serves as a redox cofactor in biological reactions. In the case of FAP, however, FAD absorbs blue light to reach an excited state that abstracts an electron from the carboxylate group of a C12 to C18 fatty acid, which then decarboxylates to yield an alkane or alkene. The study has been published in the journal Science. Further reading: Ars Technica
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Researchers Discover Enzyme That Harnesses Light To Make Hydrocarbons

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's already an overabundance of "fap" enzymes here.

  • " discovered a new light-driven enzyme, christened fatty acid photodecarboxylase (FAP)"

    Let the fapping begin!
  • I'm no chemist but I'm guessing that the byproduct of burning said hydrocarbons is probably carbon dioxide.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Chemist here. The loss of the carboxyl group (the COO part R-COOH, where R is a long chain saturated or unsaturated hydrocarbon depending on source) in fat or vegetable oil acids produces CO2. The resulting hydrocarbons (R-H) will have somewhere between 16 to 18 (plus or minus) carbon atoms and be may be solid or thick oily materials at room temperature, not likely suitable for vehicle fuel. Burning one molecule of a C-18 hydrocarbon will produce 18 molecules of CO2. If you want to use the acids produced fr
      • Re:no thank you (Score:5, Interesting)

        by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Saturday September 02, 2017 @03:40AM (#55127825)

        Hello anonymous chemist, I would think that the more useful application for this enzyme is to convert abundant plant derived fatty acids into suitable high weight molecular precursors for plastic synthesis in a post peak-oil economy, as the costs of crude oil derived hydrocarbons becomes more and more onerous.

        Coupled with some of the other inorganic catalysts used in crude refinement (to increase the fraction of lighter alkanes, and thus improve fuel oil yields from paraffin rich crude sources, such as tar sand) it might even be able to partially bolster the demand for fuel oil, but you are correct that it is more economical to just burn the fatty acid in appropriate engines. (Trans-esters of fatty acids, processed with lye and methanol, are the bread and butter of existing biodiesel fuels.)

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Another chemist here. The resulting alkanes have minimal utility for plastic production since they are inert and WAY too expensive. Using this process for fuel purposes is also WAY uneconomical as it will never compete with bioethanol. No point in a special blue-light catalyzed reaction when standard fermentation gives us a fuel at 1/10th the cost.

          The main use for the research is that it was cool. Not everything that makes C&E News has any impact on society. In fact, I would guestimate that 0.1% of

          • Re:no thank you (Score:4, Interesting)

            by OneAhead ( 1495535 ) on Saturday September 02, 2017 @09:00AM (#55128349)

            The stuff that actually affects society is done in industry, not academia. Nevertheless the people who work in the industrial labs all graduated from university labs so the academic R&D dollars are not actually wasted.

            Pray tell, what kind of university trained you as a chemist without, apparently, giving you any kind of primer on fundamental research versus applied research, and their distinctive but mutually beneficial roles in society?

        • but you are correct that it is more economical to just burn the fatty acid in appropriate engines. (Trans-esters of fatty acids, processed with lye and methanol, are the bread and butter of existing biodiesel fuels.)

          Chemical transesterification of fats into biodiesel produces an inferior fuel. Green diesel, where fats are hydrocracked, produces a superior product. Most engines run on gasoline anyway, and we could be fueling them with Butanol.

        • I would think that the more useful application for this enzyme is to convert abundant plant derived fatty acids into suitable high weight molecular precursors for plastic synthesis in a post peak-oil economy, as the costs of crude oil derived hydrocarbons becomes more and more onerous.

          Peak oil is a myth. We're going to largely switch to renewables within a few decades, and after that, we're going to have a massive oversupply of oil, and that's not even counting the massive reserves in the rest of the solar

      • " If you want to use the acids produced from fat or vegetable oils as some kind of fuel, why not just burn the fat and save the expense in time of producing the high molecular weight hydrocarbons from them? "

        I'd prefer to use a band of blue LEDs around my fatty tummy and piss the acid out while exhaling the CO2 and getting thinner and thinner.
        I guess some such gimmick will appear on Goop any minute now.

    • Of course it is, but if the carbon that is released during combustion was sourced from the atmosphere or ocean in recent times, them it is a so call Carbon Neutral cycle.

      You exhale carbon dioxide. Oh noes!

  • [cough]petroleum company[cough]

    I think we'd be better off funding research to deal with the overabundance of carbon dioxide. But let's do everything we can to avoid weaning our society off the internal combustion engine. Surely wouldn't want to leave that in the dustbin where it belongs would we?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "avoid weaning our society off the internal combustion engine."
      This is easier said than done. And it is a global problem not a localized situation. Any migration away from internal combustion engines running on hydrocarbons is a 50 to 100 year process. The entire world runs on hydrocarbons and so far the alternatives are still in their Model T phase. And it is not only the vehicles it is the infrastructure needed to support these vehicles that will end up being a long drawn out and expensive project. Look a

      • No, we only have 30 years left to get CO2 neutral. We do not have 100 years left or even 50.

    • Dude, this is carbon neutral. Draw a control volume, do some chemistry and thermo... the carbon for this hydrocarbon comes from the atmosphere. Upon combustion, it goes back into the atmosphere.

      As a bonus. not all hydrocarbon from this process needs to be burned. Sequester it in underground caverns or beneath the sea, like hydrate deposits, and you'll effectively be taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

      This is a very interesting development with a lot of promise!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Given that the supporting agencies are listed in the manuscript itself, there's no need to wonder.

      "This work was supported by grants from L’Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) (MUSCA ANR-13-JSV5-0005 to Y.L-B. and A*MIDEX ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02 to G.P.), the European Union (EU) (Sun2Chem project of ERASynBio), the French Infrastructure for Integrated Structural Biology (ANR-10-INSB-05-01), the Proteomics French Infrastructure (ANR-10-INBS-08-01), and the HelioBiotec platform funded by the EU, the r

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I would think that burning the expensive enzyme (instead of the fuel it produces) is quite wasteful.....

  • by dkman ( 863999 )

    And they say scientists don't have a sense of humor.

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