E Coli Propane: Scientists Find A Good Side of A Bad Bacteria

Justin Christensen |

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Our experience with E Coli bacteria is not typically a positive one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million or 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from food borne illnesses every year. Since 2010, there have been over one dozen outbreaks of E Coli alone.

For a change, e coli is breaking out in a good way. Engine-ready e coli propane has been produced for the first time, by scientists at Universities in London and Finland.

How Did They Do It?

Utilizing a biochemical method, the scientists altered the bacteria’s naturally occurring process of turning fatty acids into cell membranes. Through a three-step process, three different enzymes and electrons were introduced to create the change.

In the first step, a form of the thioesterase enzyme caused the bacteria to produce butyric acid instead of membranes. In the second step, two more enzymes, carboxylic acid reductase and aldehyde-deformylating oxygenase (ADO) were added to transform the acid into propane. In the final step, electrons stimulated the ADO enzyme to increase its catalytic power.

Propane Instead of Petrol-Like Biofuel

As the world’s population continues to grow, fossil fuels continue to dwindle and greenhouse gas emissions continue to cause concern, people will continue to seek new sources of energy to meet increasing demands in an environmentally friendly way.

Researchers in the UK did create a fuel from e-coli last year that resembled gasoline. However, these new developments will also have to be produced in a way that is economically sustainable. As Dr. Patrik Jones, lead scientist on this project, states

“We chose propane because it can be separated from the natural process with minimal energy and it will be compatible with the existing infrastructure for easy use”.

They also chose propane because it can easily be converted from gas to liquid and the reverse, which would facilitate storing it in liquid form. Furthermore, propane will not impede the growth of e coli because it does not build up in the culture medium.

Fuelling the Industry

While this latest alternative fuel is still another five to ten years away from commercial operations, it does hold promise. In addition to a low cost process, propane is one of the cleanest burning fuels in existence due to a low carbon content, making it more favorable on the environmental front. And the convenience of its already global market presence would facilitate its implementation.

The discovery of being able to change the pathway of how the bacteria behaves may lead to other new fuels as well. Dr. Jones’ team is contemplating the possibility of converting the sun’s energy into propane through a photosynthetic microbe.

For now though, we have continually improving formulations of gasoline and diesel at our finger tips, and quite a number of other emerging fuel alternatives to explore in the market.

Just ask your fuel distributor. They are experts on fuel and the market, and they should be up to date with industry developments and help you to as well.