Researchers at LS9 have discovered an alkane biosynthesis pathway, a metabolic pathway that produces alkanes in cyanobacteria for a direct, simple conversion from plant sugar to hydrocarbon fuels.  Alkanes are the major hydrocarbon constituents of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Using the bacteria E. coli, with the newly identified alkane operon genetics expressed, the bacteria produce and secrete C13 to C17 mixtures of alkanes and alkenes. This discovery is the first description of the genes responsible for alkane biosynthesis and the first example of a single step conversion of sugar to fuel-grade alkanes by an engineered microorganism.  The yield is in very carbon dense molecules with good hydrogen proportions.

A paper on the work was published in the July 30th issue of the journal Science.

Alkanes are naturally produced by a diverse set of species, but the genetics and biochemistry behind this biology have not been well generally well understood. The LS9 team looked into the genomes of cyanobacteria that produce alkanes in nature, evaluating many and identifying one that was not capable of producing alkanes, said Andreas Schirmer, Associate Director of Metabolic Engineering at LS9, and lead author on the paper. By comparing the genome sequences of the alkane producing with non-producing organisms, LS9 was able to identify the responsible genes.

LS9's Sugar to Fuel Organism Excretion Result. Click image for more info.

The genetics needed are an acyl–acyl carrier protein reductase and an aldehyde decarbonylase, which together convert intermediates of fatty acid metabolism to alkanes and alkenes.  The aldehyde decarbonylase is related to the broadly functional nonheme diiron enzymes.    When the genetic code is engineered into Escherichia coli, the microorganism produces and secretes the C13 to C17 mixtures of alkanes and alkenes. These genes and enzymes can now be leveraged for the simple and direct conversion of renewable raw materials to fungible hydrocarbon fuels.

Steve del Cardayre, Vice President of Research and Development said in the LS9 press release, “This is a one step sugar to diesel process that does not require elevated temperatures, high pressures, toxic inorganic catalysts, hydrogen or complex unit operations. We believe in simple processes at LS9, and the simplicity of this process has allowed us to successfully accelerate its scale-up and development.”

While other biological routes to the production of renewable hydrocarbons are emerging, these other routes require costly and energy intense chemical conversion technologies such as distillation or hydrogenation, adding significantly to the process complexity and cost.  LS9’s patent pending discovery enables the conversion of renewable biomass into fuels and chemicals without the need for these costly and energy intense chemical conversion technologies.

In addition to the alkane work, LS9 is scaling-up its production of an existing biodiesel product and a portfolio of chemicals used in making industrial and consumer products.  The new genetic code for alkanes breakthrough is consistent with LS9’s focus of developing renewable petroleum products using a proprietary one-step fermentation process that significantly reduces the costs and energy inputs.

Bill Haywood, CEO of LS9 said, “This scientific discovery made by the LS9 team is game changing for our company and the advanced biofuels industry. This remarkable breakthrough is yet another successful step in LS9’s progress toward delivering a broad portfolio of renewable fuels and chemicals to the world market as quickly as possible.”

It seems the effort is from collaboration led by researchers with the US Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute and including LS9 announced the engineering of a strain of Escherichia coli bacteria to produce biodiesel fuel and other important chemicals derived from fatty acids.  What that might mean for other production beyond LS9 isn’t being discussed.

There is a lot more starch that can be uprated to sugar and plant sugars around than most people realize.  Most are from annual crops, which supports the agricultural community.

What are missing are the efficiency numbers and other relevant to commercial scale matters.  But the ID code in bacteria is now in hand, with other organic processes sure to follow.

The notion to rely on plants to replace an 80 million barrel a day world oil habit isn’t going to happen with any information at hand now, but if the LS9 results get to commercial scale a major dent in the world’s oil habit is in the offing with a massive shift in revenue from oil production to crop growers – a very good idea of its own.

The carbon emissions also would go into an annual recycling mode – something many environmentalists could learn to be happy with.

While the science is very high tech, the execution and operation should be common technology – something that could push fuel production out to many more locations and people – a very good thing as well.

It was a good day last week for LS9 and all the rest of us too.


10 Comments so far

  1. Derek Bell on August 10, 2010 8:54 AM

    “…an 80 billion barrel a day world oil habit…” should read “…80 million barrel…”

  2. Brian Westenhaus on August 16, 2010 9:08 PM

    Thanks, Derek. Fixed. A thousand fold error, Oh My . . .

  3. sharlon on August 10, 2010 6:43 PM

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  5. Matt Musson on August 11, 2010 8:02 AM

    Great! One step closer toward giving farmers the ability to grow their own diesel. That ability would ensure the food supply against oil interuptions.

  6. Matt Musson on August 11, 2010 8:04 AM

    Great! One step closer toward giving farmers the ability to grow their own diesel. That ability would ensure the food supply against oil interruptions.

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  10. Singapore Airlines Australia on July 21, 2011 4:50 AM

    I hope, finally they won’t make zombies by human…

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