Biofuel Revolution: Scientists Produce Rocket-Launching Biofuel from Common Soil Bacteria

By: | July 29th, 2022

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Burning fossil fuels for energy is a big problem for the environment. It produces large quantities of carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to climate change.

Several options exist to transition away from fossil fuels like renewable energy, nuclear power, hydrogen, biomass, and geothermal energy. But for some industries, there are not a lot of viable alternatives, especially for aerospace.

Now, new research has found a way to make explosive compounds using bacteria commonly found in soil for cleaner alternatives to jet fuel.

A team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Joint Bioenergy Institute, Sandia National Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the University of California Berkeley, produced a renewable jet fuel using the bacteria Streptomyces.

Pablo Cruz-Morales, a microbiologist at DTU Biosustain and author of the study said, “We were motivated by the urgent need for alternative fuels that can replace petroleum-derived fuels. We believe that this is a very important step to slow down the pace of climate change,”

Researchers started exploring ways to make jet fuel out of the bacteria Streptomyces. Some strains of Streptomyces can produce chemicals like ‘Jawsamycin’, amusingly named after the movie ‘Jaws’ because of its teeth-like shape.

Jawsamycin is difficult to produce so the researchers identified and tinkered with the genes responsible for producing Jawsamycin. As a result, they synthesized a new carbon molecule for a new kind of biofuel.

This biofuel could generate enough energy to send rockets into space. But the biggest challenge is producing this ultimate carbon-neutral fuel at scale.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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