Study showed that hydrocarbons present in gasoline can be extracted from sugar

Taking advantage of the advances in the study of biology and chemistry, researchers were able to develop a method to convert glucose into olefins, a type of hydrocarbon, present among the components of gasoline.

This paves the way for the development of sustainable biofuels, which could be useful for use in the vehicles of the future.

Bacteria that eat sugar and generate hydrocarbons

To develop this study, researchers from the universities of Buffalo and Berkeley, began feeding glucose to strains of E. Coli that do not represent a danger to human health and are characterized by their high consumption of sugar.

This sample of E. Coli It was genetically modified to produce a set of four enzymes capable of converting glucose into fatty acids, which after a chemical refining process give rise to olefins as a product.

The scientific team managed to identify the enzymes and the catalyst that act in this process through trial and error, testing different molecules with suitable properties for the tasks performed. “We combine what biology can do best with what chemistry can do best, and put them together to create this two-step process,” said Zhen Q. Wang, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “Using this method, we were able to make olefins directly from glucose”, he pointed to his house of studies.

Glucose, being a renewable resource, opens an important door for the manufacture of biofuels, which are increasingly sought after for use in technology projects focused on green energy. ‘Glucose is produced by plants through photosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into oxygen and sugar. So the carbon in glucose, and later in olefins, is actually from carbon dioxide that has been removed from the atmosphere. “Wang said.

Research needs to be further developed to further explore the benefits that can be harnessed with the application of this method. There are still doubts about the feasibility of its implementation on an industrial scale, especially with regard to energy consumption during the process. Furthermore, using the current method, scientists need 100 glucose molecules to produce approximately 8 olefin molecules.

In addition to the development of biofuels, olefins can also be useful for obtaining other products, such as industrial lubricants and plastics.

The details of this study —in English— are published in Nature Chemistry.

Banner photo: Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo.

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Lenny Li

I started to play with tech since middle school. Smart phones, laptops and gadgets are all about my life. Besides, I am also a big fan of Star War. May the force be with you!

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