Measured Against Reality

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Form of Biodiesel Created

Biodiesel is being touted as a wave of the future, one of the best ways to reduce dependence on oil and cut non-renewable fuel use. Unfortunately it’s made from the same plants we eat, and if it became widely used, it would have to compete with food for space on farms.

Fortunately, that may be about to change, thanks to a team of German scientists lead by Alexander Steinbüchel from the University of Munster. The team modified some E. coli bacteria to make alcohol from sugar, and then combine that alcohol with oil. This produces a fatty-acid fuel that can be burned in a diesel engine, and has been dubbed “microdiesel”.

One benefit is that this fuel produces no toxic byproducts, unlike traditional biodiesel. Additionally, the researchers say that further modifications could eliminate the need to use oil as a constituent, enabling the bacteria to produce fuel from only plant waste byproducts resulting from normal food processing.

That fact is this methods greatest asset, reducing the cost of producing the fuel and the need for dedicated farm land. These are the two main obstacles preventing biodiesel from becoming practical, and they’re close to being surpassed. Hopefully Steinbüchel and his team will surmount the remaining challenges and make biodiesel practical. If the alarmists are right, our very world could depend on it.

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  • I fail to see how any of the chemicals in this brew would be "not toxic." All of the chemicals are toxic. Ethanol is toxic. The hydrocarbons in diesel's boiling fraction are toxic. Such an assertion is absurd.

    I'm fairly dubious about the whole thing. The actual formulation of the fuel is nothing particularly special (a diesel formulated with ethanol? how avant-garde!) and the real novel product here looks like a patentable E. coli.

    Do you really want another proprietary source of fuel?

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 11:58 PM, September 26, 2006  

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