Better biofuels through chemistry

There are very solid reasons for finding alternates to fossil fuels (including reducing the value of Middle Eastern oil reserve).
Amyris Biotechnologies is doing research into alternate biofuels using synthetic biology.

Unlike the conventional genetic engineering currently used in the manufacture of antibiotics and protein drugs such as insulin, synthetic biology involves hacking the entire metabolic system–changing the structure of some proteins, altering the expression of others, and adding in genes from other organisms–to create an efficient microbial machine.

The researchers selected several candidate compounds based on their energy content (ethanol has only 70 percent the energy of gasoline), their volatility (an ideal fuel shouldn’t evaporate too fast), and their solubility in water (unlike ethanol, a water-insoluble fuel could be piped around the country like petroleum). After narrowing the list by determining which fuels could be both produced in the lab and used in today’s engines, they were left with a selection of compounds including replacements for both diesel and jet fuel. “We’ve tested a lot of fuels with fantastic properties,” says Neil Renninger, Amyris cofounder and vice president of development.

It’s a fair bet that somebody will be protesting this and calling it “Frankenfuel.”

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