A hurdle between plant-based engine fuel and commercial reality has been the several steps needed to process the plant materials before turning them into combustible, petroleum-lookalike liquids. Now, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are a large step closer to vaulting that barrier.
The research team engineered a strain of E. coli bacteria able to survive the brine used to convert plant material into sugars. Until now, the brine has had to be washed away before bacteria can be added to the slurry. The bacteria then make enzymes that digest the sugars into fuel. The new strain of E. coli not only survives the saltwater bath, but makes the enzymes that do, too, allowing the conversion of plants to fuel in a single container.