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University-built bioreactors and engineered bacteria could cut cost of biofuel research

Professional Engineering

A depiction of Clostridium bacteria producing the biofuel butanol (Credit: University of Kent)
A depiction of Clostridium bacteria producing the biofuel butanol (Credit: University of Kent)

Equipment designed and built at the University of Kent can investigate bacterial biofuel production at a “fraction of the cost of commercial systems”, its developers have said.

Aimed at demonstrating that bacterial genetic engineering could enhance biofuel production, the equipment was developed by the university’s school of biosciences.

Commercial equipment used to study biofuel-producing bacteria can be prohibitively expensive, which prompted the team to build their own bioreactors that are accessible to most research laboratories. The researchers used the equipment to verify that one of their genetically engineered variants of Clostridium bacteria could produce the biofuel butanol more rapidly.

“A subtle change to a single gene can result in remarkable changes to how sugars are converted to biofuel products,” the researchers said.

The work could help improve access to cheaper bioreactors, stimulating wider research into biofuel production using natural and engineered bacteria.

Corresponding author Dr Mark Shepherd, senior lecturer in microbial chemistry at Kent, said: “These exciting developments will help to advance research into bacterial biofuel production, and we are particularly enthusiastic to use our expertise to optimise processes that can convert waste products from food and agriculture into biofuels that are greener alternatives to fossil fuels.”

The research was published in the journals Access Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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