Oakland (CA) – You never know what you might find when you go rooting around on a garbage dump, and US scientists reckon they have struck black gold.
Scientists at a synthetic biology lab at the University of California have used a bacterium found living on a French dump in the early 1980s which can be used to turn plant waste into gasoline that is chemically indistinguishable from fossil-fuel based petroleum.
Their method allows for the use of agricultural waste products like corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. This sidesteps criticism of biomass projects for helping drive up food prices and damage the environment.
With improvements in the rate of production from genetic engineering, the researchers estimate that production costs could be as low as $1.65 per gallon from sugar cane bagasse.
The lab used a bacterium discovered in the early 1980s living in a French garbage dump, which was then combined with yeast. When mixed with biomass, the bacteria digest it and produces the chemical acetate. The yeast then converts the acetate into methyl halides, which can be collected and converted into gasoline.