Researchers have developed a way to enhance the energy produced by biofuels, potentially expanding their usefulness in jet planes and industrial vehicles.
Biofuels, which are derived from the sugars in plant matter, have become a mainstay in the stump speeches of political candidates and the energy policy of the Obama administration, providing a potential alternative or supplement for commonly used fossil fuels.
But one problem with most biofuels so far has been that they aren’t potent enough to replace jet or diesel fuel because they have too few carbon atoms in each molecule. That reduces their potential as an alternative energy source.
The new technique, detailed in a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature, overcomes this problem via a two-part process. First, sugars are broken down, or fermented, by the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum into acetone and ethanol, a standard procedure long used to expedite the production of the explosive cordite and, more recently, biofuel. It’s quite similar to the fermentation process that produces beer, except that in this case the Clostridium bacterium replaces brewer’s yeast.