Today’s Solutions: September 21, 2023

At a time when the need to replace fossil fuels is urgent, it is amazing to see the results of human innovation and creativity to meet the challenge.

Researchers at Berkeley Lab are working on a new producer of biofuel that produces a material that boasts an energy density far higher than jet fuel. 

The new fuel candidate is a particular bacteria with molecules that are known as polycyclopropanated fatty acid methyl esters or POP-FAMEs for short. POP-FAMEs are comprised of seven sets of cyclopropane rings, three of which are carbon atoms bonded into triangular shapes, forcing the bonds into a 60-degree angle. The strains of these sharp angles hold a lot of potential energy that can be released during combustion.

To create a lab-friendly bacteria, the researchers copied the associated gene clusters from natural cyclopropane-producing bacteria from the Streptomyces family into other bacteria. The result was POP-FAME molecules that only need one further chemical processing step to transform them into usable fuel.

Then, scientists at Sandia National Labs generated computer simulations of the fuel to estimate their properties compared to conventional fossil fuels. The analysis shows that the new fuels would be safe and stable at room temperature, and would have an energy density of over 50 megajoules per liter (MJ/L). This is an impressive jump over gasoline’s energy density, which sits at around 32 MJ/L, and even jet and rocket fuels which usually max out at 35 MJ/L.

Scientists are still working on this biofuel so that it can be ready to be put on the market. The next step is to figure out ways to produce larger amounts of it to be tested in engines, and by thinking up a way to engineer the process in more efficient bacteria strains. 

Source study: Joule—Biosynthesis of polycyclopropanated high-energy biofuels

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