Microbial-based motor fuels: Science and technology

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The production of biofuels via microbial biotechnology is a very active field of research. A range of fuel molecule types are currently under consideration: alcohols, ethers, esters, isoprenes, alkenes and alkanes. At the present, the major alcohol biofuel is ethanol. The ethanol fermentation is an old technology. Ongoing efforts aim to increase yield and energy efficiency of ethanol production from biomass. n-Butanol, another microbial fermentation product, is potentially superior to ethanol as a fuel but suffers from low yield and unwanted side-products currently. In general, biodiesel fuels consist of fatty acid methyl esters in which the carbon derives from plants, not microbes. A new biodiesel product, called microdiesel, can be generated in engineered bacterial cells that condense ethanol with fatty acids. Perhaps the best fuel type to generate from biomass would be biohydrocarbons. Microbes are known to produce hydrocarbons such as isoprenes, long-chain alkenes and alkanes. The biochemical mechanisms of microbial hydrocarbon biosynthesis are currently under study. Hydrocarbons and minimally oxygenated molecules may also be produced by hybrid chemical and biological processes. A broad interest in novel fuel molecules is also driving the development of new bioinformatics tools to facilitate biofuels research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-225
Number of pages15
JournalMicrobial biotechnology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008


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