A group of scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Turku in Finland have modified the Escherichia coli bacterium to produce renewable propane. The team introduced a group of enzymes into E. coli’s metabolism – converting its fatty acid output into propane.
Propane has previously only been obtained as a by-product of natural gas processing or crude oil refining. In comparison with these conventional costly and energy-dense methods, this new process separates propane naturally with minimal energy requirements.
The renewable propane is chemically identical to the fossil fuel version, which means it is compatible with existing infrastructure. So far, the scientists have only produced small amounts. Patrik Jones, lead author of the study, believes that production at three times the current scale would generate significant returns to attract investors.
The engineered system could be inserted into photosynthetic bacteria which would directly convert solar energy into chemical fuel.
The application of bio-engineering to fuel could help to scale alternative sources of energy. With oil prices falling, such solutions could present an attractive opportunity for investors – particularly those wishing to divest from fossil fuels.