Bacteria brews biofuel with potential to replace high-energy rocket fuel
Researchers have engineered a bacterium that could yield a new source of high-energy hydrocarbon fuel for rocketry and other aerospace uses. High-energy, hydrocarbon fuels such as JP-10 can be extracted from oil with more commonly used petroleum fuels, but supplies are limited and prices are high, approaching US$7 per liter.
That’s where the new bacterium, engineered by Georgia Tech scientists Stephen Sarria and Pamela Peralta-Yahya, could come in.
By introducing enzymes into the strain of E. coli bacterium a reaction is developed that yields pinene, a cyclic hydrocarbon related to isoprene, a major ingredient of pine resin and a vital precursor to a biofuel that offers an energy density comparable to JP-10.
The biofuel is then produced by "dimerising," or linking together, two molecules of pinene via chemical catalysis.
"We have made a sustainable precursor to a tactical fuel with a high energy density,” says Peralta-Yahya, an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech. “We are concentrating on making a ‘drop-in’ fuel that looks just like what is being produced from petroleum and can fit into existing distribution systems."