Advancement is significant step in propane gas production
E. coli tends to make headlines for food-related outbreaks that threaten consumers. But this time, the bacteria is being noted as a key factor in an important breakthrough in renewable energy.
European scientists have discovered a way to genetically trick the bacteria to create engine-ready propane gas. However, the technology needs significant time before propane is produced at a high or efficient enough rate to be commercially viable.
Efficient production, simple collection, and safe storage
Propane is traditionally produced as a by-product of natural gas processing and crude oil refining. Propane production makes natural gas and oil refining safer and more efficient. Nearly 97 percent of propane (consumed by Americans) produced in North America.
The same efficiency, accessibility, and safety of propane is part of the reason why scientists chose to focus on generating propane from the E-Coli experiment as opposed to other fuel sources like ethanol.
Due to its chemical structure, propane separates more easily from the organisms’ cells without having to kill the organism. This makes the process more efficient and sustainable than similar fuel production experiments that kill the organism.
After the propane is produced and collected, it can be safely and easily converted into liquid petroleum and shipped.
Solar-produced propane is the next step
Eventually, researchers hope to apply the same process from E. coli propane production to photosynthetic bacteria in which the sun will provide the energy to produce propane. This will make the process more efficient and less expensive.
Propane becoming more popular as alternative fuel source in US
This advancement in propane production will continue to bolster propane’s
position as an alternative energy source. Advancements in recent years has helped propane become the third most popular alternative energy fuel. It helps power more than 200,000 vehicles in the US alone, including auto fleets, bus fleets, and farm equipment.
Commercial application in 5 to 10 years
Scientists need to refine the process to produce significantly more fuel before the application is commercially viable. However, researchers hope bacteria-produced propane will make its commercial appearance in 5-10 years.