Friday, January 30, 2015
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: Training microbes to make biofuel

By
From page A4 | June 13, 2014 |

When you fill your tank, you likely see a little sticker on the pump saying part of the fuel is ethanol. Ethanol is a biofuel, which means it comes from plants like corn, rather than from fossil fuel — ancient carbon that’s been buried within the Earth for millions of years.

Producing more biofuels is on the agendas of governments and private industry alike. Biofuels can potentially help nations become more energy independent. If a country can grow plants and produce biofuels from them, that nation could potentially import less crude oil. Biofuels, if done right, also could reduce the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the transportation sector.
But there are drawbacks, at least with corn-based ethanol. For one thing, using ethanol in our vehicles means we are essentially burning food as we tootle down the road. Food is pretty precious stuff in a hungry world, so a number of people are worried about corn-ethanol. It also takes considerable petroleum-based fuel to grow corn, harvest it, and process it into ethanol. So researchers around the world are on the lookout for better ways to make biofuels.
Biodiesel is another biofuel that you’ve likely heard something about. It’s blended into petroleum-based diesel to power trucks and diesel-fueled cars. Biodiesel is quite simple to make from vegetable oil. In freshman classes, I’ve led students to make it in small batches. But if biodiesel is made from oils we eat, it has some of the same drawbacks as corn-based ethanol.
Recently there was an interesting report about an advance made by scientists researching a new approach to making biodiesel. A team of researchers used genetically modified E. coli bacteria to convert sugar into a material very similar to petroleum-based diesel fuel. The fuel produced is so much like petroleum diesel, it can be used at full strength in engines.
Professor John Love, a synthetic biologist at the University of Exeter, was one of the scientists involved in the work. Talking with a reporter from BBC News, he said, “What we’ve done is produced fuels that are exactly the chain length required for the modern engine and exactly the composition that is required.”
Some people fear bioengineering when it comes to the food we eat, but there might be less resistance to the approach if it is used to produce fuel rather than vittles.
But there is more work to be done. E. coli doesn’t produce a lot of fuel. According to the BBC news report, it would take over 100 quarts of E. coli to produce a teaspoon of diesel fuel.
“Our challenge is to increase the yield before we can go into any form of industrial production,” Love said. “We’ve got a timeframe of about three to five years to do that and see if it is worth going ahead with it.”
The devil is in the details when it comes to biofuels developed so far. But don’t count researchers out – there are many good ideas being pursued all the world around.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. 

Comments

Subscription Required

Thank you for reading the MtDemocrat.com digital edition. In order to continue reading this story please choose one of the following options.

Current Subscribers
If you are a current subscriber and wish to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com, please select the Subscriber Verification option below. If you already have a login, please select "Login" at the lower right corner of this box.

Subscriber Verification

Special Introductory Offer
For a short time we will be offering a discount to those who call us in order to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your print subscription. Our customer support team will be standing by Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm to assist you.

Call and Save! (530) 344-5000

If you are not a current subscriber and wish not to take advantage of our special introductory offer, please select the $12 monthly option below to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your online subscription

Help?

E. Kirsten Peters

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Limited Prop. 90 extension approved

    By Chris Daley | From Page: A1

    Placerville PD testing out body cams

    By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1

     
    Clay Street bridge plan reactivated

    By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    American River Inn: Duo maintain Georgetown landmark

    By Rebecca Murphy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Multi-car collision causes major injury

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A3

    Awards for innovative EID workers

    By Michael Raffety | From Page: A3

     
    Mustang strikes tree on Latrobe Road

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A3

    DUI patrols set for Super Bowl Sunday

    By El Dorado County District Attorney's Office | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Opinion

    Billingsley’s Bullets: Want to create ageless joy?

    By Bob Billingsley | From Page: A6

     
    Salmon on Cosumnes?

    By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A6

    The weekly Daley: I’m not a scientist, but…

    By Chris Daley | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Letters

    When is a fee not a fee?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

     
    I hope his friends read Altshuler’s column

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7

    Placerville Main Street Rehabilitation Project

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Sports

    El Dorado sets up Sr. Night showdown

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Cougars edge Union Mine

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    El Dorado races past D’backs

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Roundup: Jan. 28, 2015

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A11

    Alpine Race results

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A11

     
    South 1 season gets underway

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A11

    Bruins pin down Roseville

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Prospecting

    IT takes two in ‘Red, White and Tuna’

    By Pat Lakey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Things to do: Jan. 30, 2015

    By Democrat Calendar | From Page: B2

    Discover Ecstatic Dance in Placerville

    By News Release | From Page: B2

     
    Guitar heroes play at Harris Center

    By Carrera Productions | From Page: B2

    Pink Floyd tribute at Sutter Creek Theatre

    By Sutter Creek | From Page: B3

     
    Guess Who is at MontBleu

    By Montbleu | From Page: B3

    Feist Wines presents Willie Watson in concert

    By Feist Wines | From Page: B7

     
    Visual artistry dazzles the audience

    By Harris Center for the Arts | From Page: B8

    Super time at Carson Valley Inn

    By Carson Valley Inn | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Essentials

    Lake levels 1-29-15

    By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

     
    .

    Obituaries

    William Charles “Chuck” Terry funeral notice

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    Jerald Warren Bennett

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

    Donald Benjamin Deal

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    Janet Louise (Percy) Ostlund

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

    .

    Real Estate

    The curse of a quick offer

    By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

     
    .

    Comics

    Tundra

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    Shoe

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

    Sudoku

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    TV Listings

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

    Rubes

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    Long Story Short

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

    Speed Bump

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    New York Times Crossword

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

    Horoscope, Sunday, February 1, 2015

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

     
    Horoscope, Saturday, January 31, 2015

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

    Horoscope, Friday, January 30, 2015

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

     
    .

    Home Source

    The curse of a quick offer

    By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4