Microdiesel-an alternate way of fossil fuel – not the best

The uprising price of oil in international market is a problem especially for the developing countries. The ‘microdiesel’ fuel may be an alternate of the usual fossil fuel. This ‘microdiesel’ is a new invention of the scientists produced from plant materials using genetically modified (GM) bacteria. The GM bugs could help cut carbon dioxide emissions while also reducing the need to grow crops to make greener fuels, they say.

Biodiesel, also known as biologically-derived diesel substitute, can be made from rapeseed (canola), soy and oil palm, by heating it with a chemical catalyst. This type of fuel can help offset greenhouse gas emissions because it is made from organisms that naturally remove CO2 from the atmosphere. However, large areas of land are still needed to cultivate raw materials, and toxic chemicals are also used to process them.

Alexander Steinbüchel, with colleagues at the University of Munster in Germany created a fuel-refining strain of the common bacteria Escherichia coli by modifying it with genes taken from two other bacteria species. The modified E. coli were cultured in a mixture of glucose and the main constituent of olive oil, which it processed into a fatty acid diesel-substitute dubbed “microdiesel”. The German team used two genes from the bacterium Zymomonas mobilis to give E. coli the ability to produce alcohol from the sugar. A third gene, taken from the bacterium Acinetobacter baylyi, enabled the E. coli to then combine this alcohol with plant oils to produce microdiesel.

Unlike regular biofuel, microdiesel is produced without toxic chemicals. Steinbüchel says future work could allow microdiesel to be made using plant waste instead of plant oils. As plant waste is regularly generated through food production this would reduce the need to grow crops specifically for biodiesel.

Although biodiesel is a good alternate of fuel but it’s large scale production is land consuming. Trevor Price, an environmental expert at Glamorgan University in Wales says’ “Biodiesel is seen by some as the answer to our problems with carbon dioxide and fossil fuels, but its does need a lot of land, Borneo’s rainforest is being destroyed for palm oil plantations and other countries may have to choose between food and fuel”.

Ref.: www.newscientist.com  / Journal : Microbiology (vol 152, p 2529)