Researchers in the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) celebrated another advance in the next generation of biofuels: using bacteria to covert plant matter into isobutanol to be used in car engines at a higher grade than ethanol or alcohol. Under James Liao of UCLA, isobutanol has been produced directly from cellulose for the first time. Furthermore, these developments represent across-the-board savings in processing costs and time.
“Unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended at any ratio with gasoline and should eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure in tanks or vehicles,” said Liao, chancellor’s professor and vice chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and a partner in BESC. “Plus, it may be possible to use isobutanol directly in current engines without modification.”
U.S Energy Secretary Steven Chu believes these developments are helping to create a major new industry, reduce America’s dependency on oil and create jobs in rural communities. The jobs will come from putting more farmland into production and the handling, transportation and refining processes of waste from crops such as wheat, corn, rice and lumber.
“America’s oil dependence — which leaves hardworking families at the mercy of global oil markets – won’t be solved overnight. But the remarkable advance of science and biotechnology in the past decade puts us on the precipice of a revolution in biofuels. In fact, biotechnologies, and the biological sciences that provide the underlying foundation, are some of the most rapidly developing areas in science and technology today – and the United States is leading the way. In the coming years, we can expect dramatic breakthroughs that will allow us to produce the clean energy we need right here at home. We need to act aggressively to seize this opportunity and win the future,” according to Chu.