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Isobutanol synthesis and extraction process could reduce energy compared to alternatives

By Scott Jenkins |

Bio-based isobutanol is attractive as a renewable blendstock for gasoline because it has higher energy density than bioethanol, and does not impose vehicle-range penalties as a fuel additive, but thus far, processes to synthesize and isolate isobutanol have required a sizable fraction of the energy embodied in the fuel. Now, a collaborative team of researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI; Worcester, Mass.; www.wpi.edu) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, Mass.; www.mit.edu) have devised a process for making and extracting isobutanol that could cut energy requirements by as much as a factor of five. The biosynthesis of isobutanol is carried out by a genetically engineered microbe isolated from rock samples at a geological carbon dioxide reservoir. The MIT group, led by Kris Prather, Janelle Thompson and Jason Boock, introduced genes for isobutanol biosynthesis into the microbe (Bacillus megaterium), which can survive in high-pressure CO2 environments. The ability to survive in these conditions is critical to the extraction process, which relies on supercritical CO2. WPI chemical engineer Mike Timko led the team that developed the extraction technique. If the supercritical-CO2 -tolerant microbe…
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