Harvard University researchers use E. coli to produce biofuels

Harvard University researchers use E. coli to produce biofuels

July 5, 2013 0 By Alicia Moore
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Research team uses bacteria as tool to produce biofuels

A team of researchers from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering may have made a breakthrough in renewable energy. The research team has been working on transforming a common strain of E. coli bacteria into a producer of biofuels, as well as chemical components for plastics and pharmaceuticals. The idea behind the team’s efforts is to allow the bacteria to produce biofuels that are similar to petroleum and to scale up this process so that the need for fossil-fuels can be reduced over time.

E. coli chosen for its ability to create long chains of fatty acids

Researchers focused on E. coli specifically due to its ability to produce long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms, called fatty acids. These chains are quite common in petroleum and researchers believe that using E. coli bacteria to produce biofuels could eventually be an effective replacement for conventional fuels. Biofuels have been growing in prominence in the renewable energy sector and researchers from around the world have been putting more focus on bacteria that can produce these biofuels.

Harvard University - Biofuels researchBiofuels have a controversial history

Biofuels have something of a controversial history, at least in the U.S. primarily due to its link with ethanol. In the past, the U.S. promoted ethanol as the key to success in the field of renewable energy. The federal government touted ethanol as the ideal transportation fuel and funneled significant amounts of money into the promotion of this biofuel. Ethanol, however, received harsh criticism that suggested it was as environmentally perilous as conventional petroleum and researchers discovered that producing ethanol was significantly less efficient than had once been believed.

US continues to show support for biofuels

Despite a rocky history, biofuels remain a major part of the renewable energy space. The U.S. is still keenly interested in using biofuels for transportation and other endeavors and continues to fund the research and development of this kind of renewable energy. Bacteria have become the key area of focus in this regard.