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Researchers Harness E. Coli To Produce Propane

samzenpus posted about 2 months ago | from the fill-the-tank dept.

Biotech 82

Rambo Tribble writes A team of British and Finnish scientists have used the common bacteria Escherichia coli to produce the environmentally-friendly fuel propane. By introducing enzymes to modify the bacteria's process for producing cell membranes, they were able directly produce fuel-grade propane. While commercial application is some years off, the process is being hailed as a cheap, sustainable alternative to deriving the gas from fossil fuel production. As researcher Patrik Jones is quoted as saying, "Fossil fuels are a finite resource and...we are going to have to come up with new ways to meet increasing energy demands."

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What about propane accessories? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824001)

Hank Hill wants to know, because he sells propane and propane accessories.

Re:What about propane accessories? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824043)

Strickland Propane. Taste the meat not the heat.

Re:What about propane accessories? (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 months ago | (#47824175)

We now pay you to take in tainted meat at Strickland Propane.

Also we are now selling propane powered car kits.

Re:What about propane accessories? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 2 months ago | (#47824235)

I tell you what. This is without a doubt a comment that should be modded up.
It is good to see Strickland expanding its line of propane accessories.

Re:What about propane accessories? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47834913)

MOD PARENT UP!!!

came in for the Hank! Left satisfied reading it in his voice.

hubris (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824013)

"We chose propane because it can be separated from the natural process with minimal energy and it will be compatible with the existing infrastructure for easy use"

I bet it would be more honest to say that "we researched this thing and found out it generates propane" instead of saying that yeah, we sat down and figured that propane! that's what we need! and then started digging how to make it happen..

Re:hubris (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 2 months ago | (#47824829)

No, they probably realized that propane was an easy target for ecoli and put some work to make it happen. TBH this is more likely to control and patent the process rather than release it ever to the public. Fat chance plebs get their hands on propane conversion kits and any mass production of this stuff gets underway.

Big oil already has massive construction and infrastructure production under way for nat gas from ocean vents.

And ironically there is so much natural gas available that it could be cheaply gathered from the planet for a few hundred years before worrying about renewables.

This application will probably end up having most implementations in space or somewhere where it would be more benificial to reprocess waste into gas.

Re:hubris (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47828181)

And ironically there is so much natural gas available that it could be cheaply gathered from the planet for a few hundred years before worrying about renewables.

That's disputable. There is a lot of natural gas available today because fracking generates a little very profitable oil for a little while and and good amount of barely profitable natural gas for somewhat longer. This has resulted in a glut of natural gas that has depressed the price to the point where it's not worth drilling if you don't get a decent amount of oil out of it. Horizontal drilling and fracking are much more expensive than the old-fashioned oil and gas drilling in the past, before the easiest-to-get stuff was largely used up, and the production of the typical fracking well drops off precipitously after a few months to a year or two. So, while I have no doubt that natural gas will be available for the foreseeable future, it likely won't remain cheap. (Plus you can easily compress propane, but not methane, making methane less useful for some applications.)

Re:hubris (1)

DriveDog (822962) | about 1 month ago | (#47836403)

Yes. And if the frackers were required to incorporate the external costs, it would be more expensive still.

I take it you mean LPG liquefaction and liquid storage is cheaper/easier than LNG. CNG is certainly common and useful, just not very compact, even at 3,000 psi. LNG is arguably safer, however, as it's lighter than air, whereas a major LPG leak can leave a lot of gas at ground level. And LNG is cold enough to quench hot bullets if they penetrate the tank. LPG isn't particularly cold until you evaporate some of it.

Dragons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824019)

Now with your very own infection you too can become a dragon.

Re:Dragons (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 months ago | (#47824179)

but you need to buy the propane accessories to make the fire come out.

Re:Dragons (1)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about 2 months ago | (#47826213)

Yeah, you need that steel tooth and that flint implant on the tip of your tongue plus a little practice.

Re:Dragons (1)

Lodlaiden (2767969) | about 1 month ago | (#47837085)

I can work with that.

E.Coli (4, Funny)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 2 months ago | (#47824029)

An intestinal bacteria, you say.

I will have to claim prior art. My family has been manufacturing methane the same way for generations.

Re:E.Coli (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824245)

An intestinal bacteria, you say.

I will have to claim prior art. My family has been manufacturing methane the same way for generations.

If you knew the slightest thing about chemistry you'd know that Propane and Methane are not the same gas.

Re:E.Coli (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 2 months ago | (#47824661)

No. Really. I'm sure OP didn't figure that out from the fact that they're different words.

That detail never occurred to them. I'm sure the mere possibility that different alkanes exist is a closely kept secret.

Pedantics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824681)

Can't live with them, can't kill them.

Re:E.Coli (1)

Aaden42 (198257) | about 2 months ago | (#47824765)

If you knew the slightest thing about the US patent approval process, you’d know he’s probably got a decent chance of making first to file and getting a patent granted anyways...

Re:E.Coli (1)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 2 months ago | (#47826011)

If you knew anything about SlashDot, you'd know that someone is researching that right now and will statically prove that you are WRONG!

Typing in Google right now...

Re:E.Coli (2)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 2 months ago | (#47825637)

An intestinal bacteria, you say.

I will have to claim prior art. My family has been manufacturing methane the same way for generations.

If you knew the slightest thing about chemistry you'd know that Propane and Methane are not the same gas.

so THAT is the reason they have completely different names?

"Well, Actually" Syndrome (2)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | about 2 months ago | (#47827487)

An intestinal bacteria, you say.

I will have to claim prior art. My family has been manufacturing methane the same way for generations.

If you knew the slightest thing about chemistry you'd know that Propane and Methane are not the same gas.

Nothing kills an embarrassingly obvious joke more than a TBU (true-but-useless) tidbit.

Here, read this to celebrate your technically correct moment of glory :) http://tirania.org/blog/archive/2011/Feb-17.html [tirania.org]

Re:E.Coli (4, Funny)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | about 2 months ago | (#47824669)

I will have to claim prior fart. My family has been manufacturing methane the same way for generations.

FTFY

Re:E.Coli (1)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 2 months ago | (#47824947)

This is Propane!

Now if we add this to cows and pigs, we will have to fire proof all the farms. Any industrial accident and we will see pigs fly, albeit with rocket propulsion and not the typical way one might think pigs would fly.

Re:E.Coli (2)

OneSizeFitsNoone (3378187) | about 2 months ago | (#47825391)

This is Propane!

Now if we add this to cows and pigs, we will have to fire proof all the farms.

Indeed we do! http://timesofindia.indiatimes... [indiatimes.com] "LONDON: A farm shed in Rasdorf, Germany, burst into flames after a heard of 90 cows produced enough combustible methane gas from just their farts. According to the local police, a static electric charge caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames, the Daily Star reported. Even though one cow can emit up to 500 litres of methane every day, fortunately, explosions due to cow flatulence is not frequent."

Re:E.Coli (1)

rgbatduke (1231380) | about 2 months ago | (#47825589)

Not the typical way one might think pigs would fly?

Whew! Thank goodness. I was starting to worry about Al Queda style pig terrorists crashing massive jets into Smithfield.

rgb

Re:E.Coli (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 months ago | (#47828357)

Any industrial accident and we will see pigs fly, albeit with rocket propulsion and not the typical way one might think pigs would fly.

I LOL'd.

The image of a pig on propane thrust will keep me laughing for a few hours.

Piiiigs .... iiiiiinnnnnnnnn .... spaaaaaaaaaace!! *splat*

Re:E.Coli (1)

bwcbwc (601780) | about 2 months ago | (#47827885)

Oh great, now when your family sets fire to their farts, they'll blow up the whole block instead of just scorching the carpet.

The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (2)

Bastiaan Albarda (3805943) | about 2 months ago | (#47824055)

A environment-friendly way of producing something does not mean that the product is suddenly environmentelly-friendly to begin with. If I get a set of bacteria to produce gasoline, would this suddenly be called 'the envrionmentally-friendly fuel gasoline'?

Re:The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (1, Insightful)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 months ago | (#47824107)

Well, if you had RTFA you would know that propane contains less carbon than most commonly used fuels (e.g gasoline). So recycling carbon and hydrogen into propane is environmentally friendly. You can learn all kinds of interesting stuff by taking a few seconds to actually read the citations...

Re: The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (1)

Bastiaan Albarda (3805943) | about 2 months ago | (#47826307)

Less carbon == good for the environment is markerteer's logic. It certainly is an improvement but it doesn't tip the scale. Switching from regular coke to diet coke doesn't make your drinking habit 'healthy', it's making it less unhealthy.

Re:The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (3, Insightful)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 2 months ago | (#47824217)

"The environmentally-friendly fuel propane" doesn't refer to the method of production. Propane is easier to burn cleanly than gasoline or kerosene, and it's not as significant a greenhouse gas as methane. It still produces CO2 when burned, of course, but it's carbon-neutral (assuming you aren't using a fossil feedstock, which would seem kind of pointless).

Gasoline produced through fermentation would be carbon-neutral as well, but it would still burn dirtier.

Re: The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (1)

Bastiaan Albarda (3805943) | about 2 months ago | (#47826411)

True, but that's the same a calling unleaded gasoline 'environmentally-friendly' because it's cleaner than leaded gasoline. The whole 'friendly' part bugs me because it stigmatises a possible improvement as a solution, which it is not. Carbon-neutral is just better, not good.

Re: The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47830287)

Carbon Neutral is perfect.

If everything were carbon neutral; then we would be at "earth normal" IE the state of the world if we weren't burning fossil-fuels (I call them fossil fuels here as their actual name, while this carbon-neutral fuel may be chemically identical to fossil fuels, if it is carbon neutral it isnt fossil-based!).

The problem caused by fossil fuels is the carbon-positive nature.

we would have just as much of a problem if we were carbon-negative!.

What we need is to be carbon neutral overall. If we come up with a method of being carbon neutral, we should cling to it. (Hell if it gets really efficient, we can use this process to sequester propane, carbon negative yay! - we just have to not burn it :)

Re:The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (4, Insightful)

Barefoot Monkey (1657313) | about 2 months ago | (#47824329)

A environment-friendly way of producing something does not mean that the product is suddenly environmentelly-friendly to begin with.

Not in general, but it does if the production is the main reason why the product isn't environmentally-friendly to begin with. If you have - just as an example - grass which captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make cellulose, which then gets fed to bacteria to create propane, which gets burnt to produce carbon dioxide (and short-lived carbon monoxide) then you have a cycle with no significant net effect on the atmosphere. This is more environmentally-friendly than digging up fossil fuels, shipping them across the world, and burning them, which pumps into the air carbon which had until then been sequestered underground since before recorded history.

At the end of the day octane is octane and propane is propane, but what matters is whether it can be produced/consumed in a carbon-neutral manner or if we're just digging up more crude oil.

Re:The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (1)

Barefoot Monkey (1657313) | about 2 months ago | (#47824371)

Note that the FTA's bacteria eats fatty acids, not cellulose as I used in my example, but the same principle applies.

Re: The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (1)

Bastiaan Albarda (3805943) | about 2 months ago | (#47826511)

The cycle will always have a net effect because the propane-part of the cycle involves transportation, waste and other overhead that will consume energy. I'm not against the whole idea, I just don't see it solving the problems the environment currently faces.

Re: The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47830315)

Your problem is you are an idiot.

All of these carbon neutral cycles are powered by an energy source that we already don't use fully.
solar power. We use the sun to grow grass and produce the material that leads to the propane production. - Part of this production cycle is the carbon (released when we extracted the stored solar energy) is re-bonded to whatever crap we want to burn using solar energy.
So even if we use the propane to move it somewhere, we are ultimately using a very efficiently-stored version of solar power.

Re:The 'evironmentally-friendly' fuel propane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47828977)

Great and all until the soil under that grass degrades and runs off into the gulf. Coincidentally, sedimentary deposits from the Roman Empire Era also show increased run off, but do let's not learn from history. And how is all that grass harvested? And how are the roads between the fields and however the bacteria are contained maintained? Etc. I'd wager humans just go on burning the good stuff while they can. And oh why hey this one lacks a path to commercial viability. Check in on it again when we're rebooting the horse and buggy following the electric car reboot, perhaps?

What is the source of energy? (1)

trout007 (975317) | about 2 months ago | (#47824065)

Is there a better write-up somewhere? It only says it uses fatty acids. What is the source of these fatty acids?

Re:What is the source of energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824085)

E. coli isn't fastidious... you could have them make propane out of human excrement.

Re:What is the source of energy? (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 2 months ago | (#47824253)

IT'S MADE FROM PEOPLE!

Re:What is the source of energy? (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 2 months ago | (#47824425)

IT'S MADE FROM PEOPLE!

That would impact soap production!

Re:What is the source of energy? (1)

Aaden42 (198257) | about 2 months ago | (#47824777)

SHHHH!!! Don’t talk about that!

Re:What is the source of energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47831673)

IT'S MADE FROM PEOPLE!

Sounds like a good use for all them Zombies!!!!

Glucose (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824339)

Here's the abstract: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140902/ncomms5731/full/ncomms5731.html

From one of the diagrams it seems that they are taking glucose as the primary source, i.e., pretty normal (for a laboratory model) E. coli food. I would also have preferred them to come out and say it explicitly.

Interesting quote from another writeup at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/09/03/3478373/propane-from-e-coli/ : “At the moment, we don’t have a full grasp of exactly how the fuel molecules are made, so we are now trying to find out exactly how this process unfolds,” he said. “I hope that over the next 5 to 10 years we will be able to achieve commercially viable processes that will sustainably fuel our energy demands.”

Re:Glucose (1)

trout007 (975317) | about 2 months ago | (#47824547)

Thank you.

I managed to get the full article. They authors do state this is not an entire process but only a way to take glucose from other process and turn it into propane which should be easier to separate from a reactor since it's a gas.

Re:Glucose (1)

sycodon (149926) | about 2 months ago | (#47824703)

5 to 10 years away...that's better than Fusion at least.

What is the source of energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47825455)

What is the source of these fatty acids?

 
Fatties.

Zodiac (1)

Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) | about 2 months ago | (#47824073)

Am I only one to instantly remember this novel [wikipedia.org] ?

I would have thought that cell membranes (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 2 months ago | (#47824075)

would be a reasonably critical part of the e-coli staying alive...

Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824133)

WTF? It doesn't matter if you dig propane out of the ground of make it from pure energy using a Universal Constructor. When you burn it in oxygen, it will produce CO2, contributing to global warming. Propane is no more an "environmentally-friendly fuel" than any other hydrocarbon is.

Re:Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (4, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | about 2 months ago | (#47824171)

Unless you use plant biomass which takes that carbon from the air. That is why I was trying to find what they used as a feedstock.

Re:Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824713)

Unless you use plant biomass which takes that carbon from the air. That is why I was trying to find what they used as a feedstock.

From what I can gather the carbon source in the paper was glucose, but the pathway forks off from E. coli's normal fatty acid biosynthesis pathway so in theory anything which the bacteria can use as a carbon source could work. It'd be interesting to see someone try to engineer this pathway into lignocellulose-degrading microorganisms.

Re:Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 months ago | (#47825769)

They used to call it nature. They used to call it forest. They used to call it savanna.

Today, they call it "biomass".

Re:Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47826063)

Everything organic on Earth starts with plant biomass. The question is basically how recent was it formerly plant material,

Re:Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47827617)

Archea that feed of carbon dioxide, water, and alpha radiation?
Sulfur/iron reducers?

Re:Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (1)

dbc (135354) | about 2 months ago | (#47828269)

Well, as it turns out, pigs are very efficient feed converters. About 3 pounds of vegetable input to produce 1 pound of pork. Much more efficient than most other meat animals. So, just insert pigs in the loop. Biomass takes carbon from the air. Pigs eat biomass, product fertilizer that boost biomass production, with an opportunity to siphon off methane. Bacteria eat fatty acids in the form of pork. It's just an extra step in the loop.

Bacon *is* the answer, in this case.

Re:Environmentally-friendly? Hello?! (1)

DriveDog (822962) | about 1 month ago | (#47836465)

Which is what I'd hope to get out of this, something that can be done on a medium-sized or smaller farm. Or under my house, but for the explosion hazard. Decentralized bacon byproduct!

(mod 0p (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824347)

Join in. It can be brain. It is the Personal rivalrie[s you to join the

Who runs bartertown? (1)

Stavr0 (35032) | about 2 months ago | (#47824715)

Apparently, some scientist from UK and Finland.

Use methane instead (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 months ago | (#47824729)

Sure, there are some trivial conversion issues, but overall it's a well-known problem. For modern propane systems which use injectors it requires less equipment replacement than ever, only recoding. And you just drop your biomass in a big bag and let it ferment. It's not just carbon-neutral, it's carbon-negative (if you can keep from fouling your membranes and thus you don't need to be replacing them repeatedly) because some of the carbon stays behind and is returned to the soil in the resulting fertilizer "waste".

Re:Use methane instead (1)

afidel (530433) | about 2 months ago | (#47828941)

Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

Re:Use methane instead (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 1 month ago | (#47831295)

Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

The idea is to burn it instead of propane, not to release it into the atmosphere.

Re:Use methane instead (1)

afidel (530433) | about 1 month ago | (#47831671)

So I did some research, natural gas is 26% [eia.gov] of total energy production but the methane leaked through use is roughly 10% [epa.gov] of total greenhouse gas emissions, so replacing all coal and petroleum with methane would only result in an ~70% reduction in total greenhouse gas effects, using propane from carbon neutral sources would be closer to 98%.

Re:Use methane instead (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 1 month ago | (#47833119)

So far it involves at least two processes, though. Actually getting to propane hasn't been shown to be doable without spending some energy.

still claiming dinosaurs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47824799)

Fossil fuels? Like the decaying mass of dinosaurs and large ferns have descended to depths of 3 miles?

Propane burning emits CO2 (1)

JoJo McJoJo (3809977) | about 2 months ago | (#47824813)

So calling it "environmentally friendly" is a bit of a stretch. It's environmentally moderate, perhaps.

Re:Propane burning emits CO2 (2)

doconnor (134648) | about 2 months ago | (#47824889)

If the propane is made from CO2 that is absorbed from the air, like plants are able to, then it is carbon neutral.

Re:Propane burning emits CO2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47826235)

Like fossil fuels didn't initially come from biomass that fixed carbon from the air.... How far back do we go there?

Re:Propane burning emits CO2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47830363)

OK,

I'll explain why you are dumb.

We want to be carbon-neutral, by that I mean, carbon-neutral with the environment in a state that we would prefer.

So, we could burn all the fossil fuels and put their CO2 back in the air. We would be carbon neutral with respect to 65 million years ago (or whenever that forest first grew).

But, we don't want to be carbon neutral with respect to 65 million years ago, we want to be carbon neutral with respect to the last 100 years. So all that carbon from the dinosaurs or whatever, we go back however far it is that carbon neutral results in a climate that doesn't fuck with our existing infrastructure. (flood cities, acidify oceans whatever).

NOTE: we don't want to be too carbon negative with respect to the last 100 years, because we like a little heat to be retained by the atmosphere.

So stop being a pedantic douchebag and use your brain.

We go back to carbon-neutral as at a climate we actually want.

Well... (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 2 months ago | (#47824895)

...let's be accurate: Fossil Fuels are NOT a "finite resource", just that replenishment takes a very long time.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47826289)

...let's be accurate: Fossil Fuels are NOT a "finite resource", just that replenishment takes a very long time.

Apparently not. Take a common bacteria and you can get "propane" (or easier yet methane") from decaying bio-matter. This is exactly what happened to create the fossil fuels we dig out of the ground. So it doesn't take that long.

Re:Well... (1)

dbc (135354) | about 2 months ago | (#47828199)

sort of. Actually most of the oil in the Earh was produced during two distinct mass-extinction events. So it really isn't a continuous process. More like:

1. Mass extinction event.
2. Wait a couple hundred million years.
3. Profit.

Guts (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 2 months ago | (#47825357)

Is there any danger of this getting into anyone's intestines and living there? I wouldn't want propane farts!

Re:Guts (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47826367)

Is there any danger of this getting into anyone's intestines and living there? I wouldn't want propane farts!

So, methane is OK with you? Both are flammable... Not much of a difference between C3H8 and CH4.

Re:Guts (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47827795)

If you produce propane farts and those around you produce methane farts, then everyone will know by the smell who let the last one off.

Re:Guts (1)

DriveDog (822962) | about 1 month ago | (#47836489)

Propane is heavier than di-nitrogen, hence they'll be ground-hugging and slower to dissipate.

Why? (1)

Bodhammer (559311) | about 2 months ago | (#47828743)

Why are all these wonderful solutions to all the worlds ills always "commercial application is some years off,"?

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47832331)

people want funding for those years

Methane Collectors... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47831999)

...are also needed...to collect methane created by animals, namely cows (so the story goes).

Such devices already exist for landfill locations since decaying garbage deposited there by humans tends to be converted over time to methane.

When they produced gasoline it was cooler. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47835755)

I even read about it on slashdot.

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