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We're one step closer to cheap, abundant biofuel

Illustration for article titled Were one step closer to cheap, abundant biofuel

Biofuels are made from carbohydrates and fats in corn and other feedstock. This is a wasteful process because it leaves behind all the protein, a far more abundant substance. As a result, one of the big questions for alternative energy researchers is how we can pull biofuel from protein. Especially because proteins are also present in industrial waste products from agricultural processing - things like corn husks, for example. Imagine if you could take corn husks and turn them into gas. Well, now we're one step closer.

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And it's all because of a re-engineered E. coli bacteria. According to Nature Biotechnology:

James Liao and colleagues overcome this problem by changing metabolic pathways in E. coli. The engineered bacteria are able to efficiently remove nitrogen groups from amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — to produce alcohols, which in turn are converted into biofuels.

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Many kinds of algae, like those pictured above, are also packed with proteins that these E. coli can turn into alcohol as well.

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DISCUSSION

I'm all for alternative energies, but biofuel never passes the check for me. First off there is the fact that to make the plant matter into fuel we have to burn fuel, in pretty equal parts to what we get out of it, so there is no real energy savings. Then there is the fact that to grow plants on the level we would need to make them into fuels we have to pour petroleum into the ground as fertilizer to get the soil to be rich enough, so we aren't saving anything on that end either.

I've just always felt that this whole line of scientific research grew out of the need to find something to do with the mass amounts of corn we are subsidizing. But I'm a pessimist about anything to do with corn.

If I'm wrong in my understands I welcome folks to correct me.