An E. coli bacteria that we don’t mind

A team from the University of Exeter, with support from Shell, has developed a method to make bacteria produce diesel on demand

Most E. coli are harmless or even beneficial, but the bacteria get a bad rap because of toxin-producing strains such as 0157:H7. Scientists at the University of Exeter in England are using E. coli to produce another toxic product, but in this case a good one — diesel fuel.

According to the university release, the product is almost identical to conventional diesel fuel and so does not need to be blended with petroleum products, as is often required by biodiesels derived from plant oils. This also means that the diesel can be used with current supplies in existing infrastructure because engines, pipelines and tankers do not need to be modified.

The release says that while the technology still faces many significant commercialization challenges, large-scale manufacturing using E. coli as the catalyst is already commonplace in the pharmaceutical industry and, although the biodiesel is currently produced in tiny quantities in the laboratory, work will continue to see if this may be a viable commercial process.

The university work is supported by Shell.

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