Could Bacteria be the Future of Biofuels and Clean Energy?

Methods of generating clean energy and biofuels come from a variety of different resources that occur naturally. For example, we use the power of wind and the sun’s rays for energy, all while we break down enzymes in certain food products or grow algae for fuels. However, some scientists believe that we may be able to take another step forward and use bacteria to further our ability to create green technology. A scientist at Rutgers believes he has developed a method of using the bacteria E. coli to generate biofuels while researchers at the University of Birmingham have started dabbling in another type of bacteria that could promote a variety of green services.

Desmond Lu, a professor at University of Rutgers-Camden, has been researching a method of altering the genetic make-up of the E. coli bacteria in order to create a strain that would be capable of aiding in the creation of biofuels. Together with researchers at Harvard, the group has been using information gathered on the bacteria over the last sixty years as a basis for developing the new strain. The plan is to create a strain of E. coli that would overproduce the fatty acids the bacteria already produces so that they could be harvested for use in biofuels. Using computer modeling, Lun believes that by perfecting a strain of E. coli that can produce biofuels we would be able to move away from relying on resources like corn for ethanol production, which would, in turn, allow us to stop growing corn for fuel and focus on growing crops for food. Should Lun and the Harvard team succeed, he believes they will have opened the door to a brand new way to generate biofuels that could become the standard in the future.

A team of researchers at the University of Birmingham, meanwhile, have discovered what they believe is a bacteria that can eventually aid in generating clean energy. Led by Dr. Kevin Deplanche, the team has found that the bacteria called Desulfovibrio desulfuricans, is capable of moving through industrial wastes and turning palladium, considered one of the most precious metals on Earth, into nano-particles they call BioPd. The researchers have discovered that the BioPd particle has several unique properties that could lend itself to a variety of green services. In one instance they believe it could be used to break down pollutants in certain industrial wastes that cause harmful carbon emissions while another application would aid in generating electricity from hydrogen in a specially designed fuel cell.

Although we are still far from actually being able to use bacteria in the creation of biofuels or clean energy, the research done by groups such as the ones mentioned above is exciting nonetheless. The idea that we will one day be capable of customizing or harnessing certain bacteria to create an efficient and viable means of generating energy or biofuels represents a whole new future for renewable energy.

Photo Credit: Caroline Davis2010 on Flickr