A new category of power dense biofuels based on one of nature’s most distinctive molecules has been created by scientists.
In order to generate a brand-new kind of fuel that could be utilized for all kinds of vehicles, including rockets, scientists resorted to an unusual bacterial molecule that resembles a jaw full of pointed teeth.
Crude chemistry, which was originally developed by mankind in the 1800s, is required to transform petroleum into fuels. Meanwhile, for billions of years, microbes have been creating energy molecules made of carbon.
An amazing antifungal chemical produced by Streptomyces bacteria served as inspiration for a team of biofuel experts at Berkeley Lab to create a brand-new form of fuel with estimated energy density to be higher than the most cutting-edge heavy-duty fuels now in use by NASA.
According to lead engineer Jay Keasling, a synthetic biology innovator and CEO of the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, this biosynthetic pathway offers a safe alternative to the highly energy-dense fuels that, before all this work, could only be created from petroleum using an extremely toxic synthesis process (JBEI).
Burning these fuels in engines will considerably minimize the amount of additional greenhouse gas compared to any fuel created from petroleum since they would be made by using bacteria nourished with plant matter, which is formed from carbon dioxide drawn from the environment.
Each carbon-carbon bond in polycylcopropanated molecules is forced into a severe 60-degree angle by the presence of numerous triangle-shaped three-carbon rings.
Additional energy for combustion can be produced by this strained bond’s potential energy than by the bigger structural units or carbon-carbon chains generally present in fuels.
These structures also make it possible for fuel molecules to condense firmly into a compact space, increasing the mass and hence the total energy of fuel that can fit in any given tank.
Why the name Jawsamycin?
The only two known examples of organic compounds with 3-carbon rings that he could find after searching through the scientific literature were produced by the Streptomyces bacteria, which are nearly impossible to culture in a lab setting.
Coincidentally, one of the compounds had been genetically investigated and examined because of its antifungal capabilities. The natural substance, which was found in 1990, is known as jawsamycin because of its unusual five cyclopropane rings, which give it the appearance of a jaw with sharp teeth.
What difference does POP-FAMEs make?
To demonstrate the existence of the illusive cyclopropane rings, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to examine the POP-FAMEs. Additionally, Sandia National Laboratories researchers used computer simulations to determine how the compounds would behave in comparison to standard fuels.
The simulation results imply that POP fuel candidates are secure and stable at room temp and that, after chemical processing, they will have energy densities of over 50 megajoules per liter. JetA, the most popular jet fuel, has a density of 32 megajoules per liter, and RP-1, a well-liked kerosene-based rocket fuel, has a value of about 35 which is used by NASA for their rockets
When can we expect the carbon-neutral fuel in the market?
The researchers have started working to improve the bacteria’s production efficiency even more since they published their proof-of-concept paper in order to produce plenty for combustion testing. Additionally, they are looking into how the multi-enzyme route could be altered to produce polycyclopropanated molecules of various lengths.
The ultimate carbon-neutral fuel may be created eventually by engineering the mechanism into a workhorse bacteria strain that can make vast amounts of POP molecules from waste organic food sources (such as indigestible agro – residues and brush cleared for wildfire protection).
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