Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ethanol; a blue green fuel alternative

The impending peak oil crisis is a hot topic at the moment in the news along with it are the so called “designer” fuels; fuels that are environmentally and economically viable. One such possibility has arisen from the ecologically significant cyanobacteria. This little organism is opening possibilities for a clean, green source of fuel.

It has long been known that the molecule cellulose is a potential bio-fuel source as it is comprised mainly of sugars which can be fermented to ethanol. However in most plants the cellulose is a structural molecule; this means that it is tightly packaged along with many ligands. The refinement of this cellulose to sugars is an expensive process as it requires many enzyme assisted steps.

Professor R. Malcolm Brown Jr. and Dr. David Nobles Jr. are the scientists who developed this particular cyanobacteria. It has been genetically modified to produces cellulose in a gel like form. Not only this but the bacteria excretes sucrose and glucose which can also be used to me ethanol. This ability was sourced from genetic material from a non-photosynthetic ‘vinegar’ bacterium.

This bacteria is suggested to be one of the most sustainable bio-fuel production methods around as it is photosynthetic, nitrogen fixing and can be gown in second grade water not suitable or humans or corps. Another bonus is that the bacteria secretes the cellulose as waste so it can be harvested without damaging the bacteria making it a renewable source. All in all, the cyanobacteria provides a realistic and viable blue green fuel source thanks to a little genetic engineering.
Photo (bellow) of the cyanobacteria with
chlorophyll (pink/red) producing cellulose (blue)

Sigrid Hillier 41772887

No comments: