What if you could use your garbage to fuel your car? Well, scientists at Essex University in England are attempting to do just that. In a study funded by Shell, these scientists discovered that E. coli bacteria could be manipulated to produce what they are calling a “bio-fossil-fuel.”
A “Sick” Concept
Most of us probably associate E. Coli with that sick feeling you get when you’ve eaten spoiled food but it appears that this bacteria could be more than just a nuisance to our digestive systems.
E. Coli is a bacteria that naturally turns sugars into fats. The masterminds behind this new fuel figured out that by tweaking a couple of things, they could create a strand of E. Coli that would convert sugar into synthetic fuel molecules.
Today we use eco-friendly fuels known as biodiesel and bioethanol but these fuels require a certain amount of petroleum mixed in to be compatible with modern engines. The amazing thing about this new E. coli fuel is that it won’t require any petroleum to be added in order to work in our engines. Still, there are some problems with this new “bio-fossil-fuel.”
Just as with any fantastic new discovery, we’ve found many problems with producing this product. One of the biggest issues is that the rate at which it is created is extremely slow. It takes 100 Liters of bacteria to create a minuscule 1 teaspoon of fuel. That means we would need 1,228,800 Liters of E. coli just to fill up one tank of gas!
In addition to this snail-paced production rate, the fuel created by the E. coli eats up the bacteria so it’s impossible to reuse it. But where there’s a will there’s a way…
In order to find a new way to make the bacteria biofuel more efficient, researchers turned to the pharmaceutical industry which has used bacteria to create medicines.
The researchers then applied this information to their fuel and exposed a new strand that excreted the fuel from the bacteria so the same bacteria could continue to yield the fuel. Feedstock, or the things that the bacteria come from, could include plants, animal waste, and even sewage.
While using our waste may seem like a super gross idea, it could be a step closer to reducing our carbon footprint. Scientists are still working out the problems with this new biofuel and it may be another three to five years before they are able to determine whether or not this endeavor is worth the effort.