The researchers at the University’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) collaborated with their colleagues at Imperial College London and University of Turku to develop a synthetic pathway that enables the renewable biosynthesis of propane.
Last year, a team of researchers at Imperial College, London, had proved that propane can be made from glucose using a genetically engineered version of bacterium E coli. Though they could produce propane only in tiny quantities, the success of the experiment was a proof of concept that propane production doesn’t require its two usual sources of production- petrol refining and natural gas processing.
This current research, which was funded by the European Union, was taken up in an attempt to develop next generation bio fuels. It was published in the ‘Biotechnology for Biofuels’, an open access journal, with the title A microbial platform for renewable propane synthesis based on a fermentative butanol pathway.
As natural metabolic pathways for biosynthesis of propane do not exist, researchers have developed an alternative microbial biosynthetic pathway to produce renewable propane.
As reported in the journal, researchers introduced a genetically engineered enzyme into an existing fermentation pathway that produces butanol to redirect that microbial path to instead produce propane.
As Biomassmagazine quotes, Professor Nigel Scrutton, director of the MIB, explains the significance of their work, “The chemical industry is undergoing a major transformation as a consequence of unstable energy costs, limited natural resources and climate change. Efforts to find cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy as well as using biotechnology techniques to produce synthetic chemicals are currently being developed at The University of Manchester.”
Scrutton also says “This study (is) focused on the construction and evaluation of alternative microbial biosynthetic pathways for the production of renewable propane. It also expands the metabolic toolbox for renewable propane production, providing new insight and understanding of the development of next-generation biofuels which one day could lead to commercial production.”
Propane (C3H8) is a very volatile hydrocarbon with highly favourable physicochemical properties as a fuel. In the exploration of a commercially usable renewable alternative to complement currently used petroleum derivative fuels, researchers see propane as an attractive choice.
This achievement of propane biosynthesis, an indispensable invention as fossil fuels continue to diminish, would take the world one step closer to commercial production of renewable propane.