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article imageGreen biodiesel possibility

By Tim Sandle     Jan 11, 2013 in Environment
Scientists have successfully engineered two strains of blue-green algae like bacteria (cyanobacteria) to produce a liquid fuel. The fuel is being declared as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.
Considerable research and development, not to mention finance, is being put into the development of biofuels. The alcohol based fuels, made from organic matter (mainly plant material) represent the most likely future energy strategy to counteract the decline of fossil fuels.
Biofuels are either derived from plants or from agricultural waste or bio-fuels are synthesised through microbes that digest the biomass and convert its sugars into fuel molecules. With the projected decline of fossil fuels, the search for cheap and quick to produce bio-fuels continues to apace within industry and at university
The development of biofuels has so far been relatively inefficient and there have been several false starts (as the Digital Journal has reported on previously). This is because the bacteria normally used to convert parts of the cell wall of plants into fuel are only able to metabolize a small part of the cellulosic plant material. What most bacteria typically do is convert the glucose contained within the plant wall into ethanol. However, some promising new research has emerged in relation to cyanobacteria.
Cyanobacteria are sometimes called blue-green algae. They are an unusual type of bacteria in that they obtain their energy from photosynthesis (much like a plant). They are common to oceans and to fresh water environments.
Due to their energy making potential, several research efforts are underway to commercialize algae-based fuels such as diesel, gasoline and jet fuel.
The goal is to produce micro-algal fuels. These cells would be renewable, given that they are powered by sunlight. They also could reduce carbon dioxide emissions since they use photosynthesis as an energy making source.
As a step towards this goal, Sandia National Laboratories Truman Fellow Anne Ruffing has genetically engineered two strains of cyanobacteria with great potential. According to her research brief, she has been undertaking studies with the new bacterial strains for the direct conversion of carbon dioxide into biofuels by photosynthetic organisms.
Her process works by growing up the cynaobacteria in a pond to the density needed. Next the water is removed and the bacterial cells collected. The cells are then broken open to extract a chemical, one that will trigger the fuel reaction. On purification of the chemical, a biodiesel can be created.
Biodiesels are the fastest growing class of bio-fuels and it is being produced at increasing rates across the U.S. from primarily soy-bean oil, but also canola, peanut, sunflower, mustard and even algae.
The latest developments have been published in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering.
More about Biofuels, cyanobacterium, Algae, bluegreen algae
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