Tech team engineers biofuel

Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech News Center

Tech researches may be on their way to solving on nation’s energy crisis. Tech partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute to create a new bacterium which synthesizes pinene, a hydrocarbon found in trees, which could potentially replace high energy fuels.

According to the Tech researchers, including chemistry graduate student Stephen Sarria who worked under chemistry and biochemistry Assistant Professor Pamela Peralta-Yahya, the bacterium based biofuel could be used to “supplement” JP-10, a kind of jet fuel.

This discovery is important in the field of aerospace engineering because the new biofuel alternative would work especially well in rocket engines. This is because minimizing fuel weight is a necessary part of air and space travel, but at the same time, fuels need to be of a very high energy density.

The molecular structure of JP-10 makes it a staple for current rocket fuels. It has multiple carbon atom rings which make it incredibly energy dense.

But the amounts of JP-10 that can be extracted from each barrel of oil are limited. This accounts for the steep hike in the price per gallon.

Currently, fuels like JP-10 can be extracted from oil but the process is extremely expensive, going as high as $7 a liter. Sarria and Peralta-Yahra believe this is where their bacterium based biofuel will come into play.

“We have made a sustainable precursor to a tactical fuel with a high energy density. We are concentrating on making a ‘drop-in’ fuel that looks just like what is being produced from petroleum and can fit into existing distribution systems,” said Peralta-Yahra to GizMag reporters.

Although the Tech team still has a long way to go before their creation will be marketable, they are very optimistic.

“If you are trying to make an alternative to gasoline, you are competing against three dollars per gallon. That requires a long optimization process. Our process will be competitive with 25 dollars per gallon in a much shorter time,” said Peralta-Yahra to Tech News reporters.