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New advances with E. coli bacteria could eventually improve biofuel production

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E Coli
E Coli

Currently, producing fuel directly from biological products can lead to some tough choices. The resulting biofuel usually either needs to be mixed with regular petroleum or the vehicles themselves need to be modified to work with it. New research published recently details the work of scientists to try to avoid both problems by creating a biofuel that's compatible with diesel engines. "Producing a commercial biofuel that can be used without needing to modify vehicles has been the goal of this project from the outset," says Professor John Love of the University of Exeter. The study (funded by Shell), used E. coli to create the "bio-fossil-fuels," as Love calls them, though this biofuel is a long way from your gas tank. It takes around 100 liters of bacteria to create a teaspoon of fuel, the BBC reports, and the researchers expect it will be three to five years before they will know whether the yield can be improved.

On another E. coli biofuel track, Ars Technica details a separate study that advances production in perhaps a more significant — or at least more voluminous — way. In that study, researchers took techniques from the pharmaceutical industry and applied them to biofuel production. Specifically, they created a way to get E. coli to excrete the fuel after it has been created — normally the fuel sticks around and kills the bacteria. “It’s the same idea as milking a cow,” Professor Geoffrey Chang told Ars Technica. The method could make producing biofuel much more efficient, since the same bacteria can continue to produce fuel without needing to be replaced.