Gas that grows on trees? Bacteria that can turn plant matter, manure into real gasoline is now science fact, not fiction

E. Coli

In journalism school I became a biofuel dork. It sort of happened by accident, really. One dark winter term, I was assigned to write a 100+ page research paper. The topic I chose: biofuels.

While the vast majority of my work surrounded corn-derived ethanol, a small portion was devoted to biofuels created from bacteria.

At the time, the concept was a pipedream. There were some labs creating the stuff but the process was tedious and the resulting fuel would gum up conventional gasoline and diesel engines. Early experiments yielded biofuels that was close to the stuff we pull out of the ground but not close enough to avoid long-term reliability issues.

Now, however, it seems John Love from the University of Exeter in the UK has sorted the process out. Here’s how New Scientist describes Love’s process: “[Love] took genes from the camphor tree, soil bacteria and blue-green algae and spliced them into DNA from Escherichia coli bacteria. When the modified E. coli were fed glucose, the enzymes they produced converted the sugar into fatty acids and then turned these into hydrocarbons that were chemically and structurally identical to those found in commercial fuel.” (DT’s emphasis)

While the creation is impressive, in its current state, Love’s biofuel-creating bacteria feeds on plant matter, which is monetarily and environmentally costly.

More impressive, however, Love wagers he can alter the genes of the bacteria to allow the biofuels to be created from a straw or animal manure diet, both of which are far more abundant and far less impactful.

It’s astonishing to fathom. In the near future, we might be able to take waste and turn it into gasoline for our cars from a process that is carbon neutral over its lifespan.

Now before you begin to spin conspiracy narratives about an oil industry uprising to kill the stuff, know that the research was partly funded by Shell. Perhaps the oil producer figures growing gasoline in a lab will soon be cheaper than extracting it from the earth?

I, for one, am very excited to see this breakthrough – I honestly never thought we’d get there. Now I hope we can just get it to a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable state.

What do you think? Should we (or Shell) look for more ways to make gas, or find other ways altogether to power our vehicles? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.

Photo credit: adonofrio on Flickr

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Scientists have a way to turn off alcoholism: Blasting the brain with lasers

Researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats by targeting a part of the brain using lasers. Here's how.
Product Review

The Ferrari Portofino is the super stallion you’ll want to drive every day

With the introduction of the Portofino, Ferrari addresses the California T’s stylistic shortcomings while improving comfort, convenience, and performance. There’s little “entry-level” about this super stallion.

From PUBG to Apex Legends, this is how battle royale happened

Battle royale games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds’ and Fortnite have become the biggest trend in video games. The genre is also pushing the envelope in Twitch streaming and eSports.

The 2019 Toyota C-HR gains a popular tech feature as its price comes down

Toyota has updated the C-HR, its entry-level crossover, by adding an entry-level trim level to the lineup. Every model regardless of price also comes standard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay.
Product Review

2019 Volkswagen Jetta offers German refinement and tech at an affordable price

With enough tech to make villains jealous, the Volkswagen Jetta punches above its class as a forward-thinking sedan. Spacious, comfortable, and efficient, the Jetta is a refined offering. German refinement comes with a serious attitude.
Product Review

Chris is the virtual co-pilot phone-obsessives need in their car

Driving while using your phone is dangerous, and often illegal. Meet Chris, the digital assistant for your car that wants to help keep your hands off your phone, and your eyes on the road.

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe is an exercise in form-over-function design

Porsche expanded its lineup of SUVs with a swoopier evolution of the Cayenne named Cayenne Coupe. Don't let the name fool you: it still has four doors. It stands out with a fastback-like roofline that's lower than the Cayenne's.

Protect yourself and your ride with our favorite dash cams

Dashboard cameras can assist drivers in car accident claims, settle speeding ticket disputes, and even catch glimpses of incoming meteors, among other things. Here, we've compiled a list of the most noteworthy offerings available.

Tesla revives its referral program with chances to win a Roadster

Tesla has revived its referral program that ended in February because of cost pressures. This time around the perks aren't quite as diverse, though it does offer regular chances to win a Roadster or Model Y.

Tesla ends scheduled servicing because electric cars need less maintenance

Tesla will longer offer scheduled maintenance plans, switching to an "as needed" model. This reflects the fact that electric cars need less regular maintenance than gasoline or diesel cars.

The go kart-like Mini Cooper will soon add zero emissions to its resume

Mini is in the final stages of developing an electric version of the Cooper. The 2020 Cooper SE will receive powertrain components from the BMW i3, including a 181-horsepower electric motor and battery technology.

Formula 1 is putting data in the driver’s seat, and not all racers are happy

After a single weekend of racing, a Formula 1 pit crew typically pulls around 2TB of data from the car. Everything, from tire pressure to the temperature of the track, is recorded and analyzed in the name of boosting performance -- and not…
Product Review

By adding features, tech, and all-wheel drive, Mazda puts the 3 in a class of one

Since its introduction in 2003, Mazda’s compact Mazda3 has been a mainstay of the brand’s driver-oriented strategy. Mazda now plans to move upmarket, and the all-new 2019 Mazda3 offers some clues about how that’s going to work.