“The breakthrough behind this approach is the ability to re-engineer the microbe’s genome so to change its metabolism and create different types of high-value chemical compounds which could be renewable alternatives to crude oil.”
University of Manchester researchers are using synthetic biology to explore a more efficient way to produce the next generation of bio-based jet fuels – partly made from a type of bacteria that grows in seawater.
The Manchester research group, lead by Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) and supported by the US-based international maritime research agency Office of Naval Research Global (ONR), is using synthetic biology to help identify a more efficient and sustainable method to make biofuel than the one currently used.
According to the researchers, they have discovered that the bacteria species called Halomonas, which grows in seawater, provides a viable “microbial chassis” that can be engineered to make high-value compounds. This in turn means products like bio-based jet fuel could be made economically using production methods similar to those in the brewery industry and using renewable resources such as seawater and sugar.
The breakthrough behind this approach is the ability to re-engineer the microbe’s genome so to change its metabolism and create different types of high-value chemical compounds which could be renewable alternatives to crude oil.
Dr Benjamin Harvey and his team of researchers at naval research facilities in China Lake, California, US pioneered the work on converting biological precursors to relevant jet fuels.
Scrutton said: “Effective biofuels strategies require the economic production of fuels derived from a robust microbial host on a very large scale – usually cultivated on renewable waste biomass or industrial waste streams – but also with minimal downstream processing and avoids use of fresh water. With Halomonas these requirements can be met, so minimising capital and operational costs in the production of these next-generation biofuels.”
According to the University of Manchester, this research could be “groundbreaking” news for the wider biofuels industry.
“In the case of the jet fuel intermediates we are bio-producing, they are chemically identical to petrochemical-derived molecules, and will be able to ‘drop-in’ to processes developed at China Lake,” added Dr Kirk Malone, Director of Commercialisation of the University of Manchester’s MIB.
He further explained: “Biotechnology allows us to harness the exquisite selectivity of nature to efficiently produce complex chemicals, often using temperatures and pressures lower than in traditional organic synthesis. This can result in fewer by-products and contaminants (i.e. trace metals from catalysts), thereby simplifying purification and lowering costs.”
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