Navigation Links
Worcester Polytechnic Institute Helps Develop a Novel Extraction Process that May Provide a More Economical Way to Make a Promising Biofuel
Date:4/18/2019

Taking a step closer to a “green” replacement for fossil fuels, a research team that includes a chemical engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a novel process using an unusual solvent and an exotic microorganism that may make it possible to manufacture isobutanol and other biofuels more economically.

Isobutanol, like ethanol, is an alcohol, but its lower water solubility (which reduces the risk of corrosion associated with many biofuels) and higher energy density (which translates to increased miles per gallon), have created considerable interest the compound’s potential use as a gasoline additive and even a gasoline replacement. But manufacturing isobutanol, which is typically produced using biotechnology, has proven difficult and costly.

“With the growing threat of climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels and petroleum-producing countries, there is increasing interest in using isobutanol as a gasoline additive in place of ethanol, which can significantly lower a vehicle’s fuel efficiency,” said Michael Timko, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at WPI. “But we haven’t found an environmentally friendly, efficient, or inexpensive way to produce it.”

In a paper published recently in Nature Communications (Engineered Microbial Biofuel Production and Recovery Under Supercritical Carbon Dioxide), Timko and colleagues describe a novel method for producing and extracting isobutanol that uses supercritical carbon dioxide as a solvent and a bacterium that can thrive in this harsh, antimicrobial liquid. The team genetically engineered the bacterium, which was isolated from a naturally occurring reservoir of high-pressure carbon dioxide, by adding genes for the production of isobutanol. They then showed how supercritical carbon dioxide could overcome two important problems that plague conventional biofuel production methods: low yields and bacterial contamination.

Timko, who received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2016 for his work with biofuels, analyzed the process and showed that the biofuel could be made using five times less energy compared to traditional manufacturing processes, making it less expensive, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

“We’ve done the calculations to prove that this process works and it works well,” he said. “We had an intuition that this would work but the question was if it would be energy efficient. Turns out, it is. The art of the research has been creating the extraction technique. Virtually every way to separate mixtures had previously been tried on isobutanol, but we came up with the right process.”

Timko co-authored the paper with Kristala Jones Prather, Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, and Janelle R. Thompson, Associate Director of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, who have worked with him on the project since 2015, when they collectively received a $1.5 million award from the Department of Energy. WPI received $500,000 of that grant for Timko’s work on process modeling, biofuel extraction, and process analysis. The MIT team worked on microbiology and genetic engineering.

Isobutanol is made in a bioreactor by fermenting biomass using microorganisms. The final product is extracted with organic solvents, which are often flammable, toxic, and costly. The solvents are unable to extract the isobutanol quickly enough, and as its concentration increases, the fermentation process stops. Scientists have tried to boost the reaction’s yield using more conventional techniques, including gas stripping, adsorption, distillation, and liquid extraction, but with limited results.

The WPI research team addressed this problem by replacing the organic solvents with supercritical carbon dioxide, which is a fluid state of the gas held at or above its critical temperature and pressure. Timko showed that by using this abundant and renewable solvent, they were able to extract high-purity isobutanol quickly enough to prevent it reaching levels that might otherwise have brought fermentation to a grinding halt. Timko’s analysis shows the supercritical carbon dioxide process consumes about six times less energy than any other extraction process.

The bacteria typically used to produce isobutanol cannot grow in supercritical carbon dioxide, so the research team went looking for a microorganism that had evolved to thrive in this harsh liquid. They found a good candidate in Bacillus megaterium SR7. The microbiology team at MIT identified a specific strain of this microbe, found inside a wellhead in Colorado that contains one of the world’s largest geological reservoirs of high-pressure and nearly pure carbon dioxide. Not only can SR7 survive the harsh bioreactor conditions, they found, it is able to grow under conditions that are lethal to all previously studied microbes.

The microbe, though, lacked the genes needed to produce isobutanol, so the MIT team had to add them through genetic engineering. Tests showed that modified Bacillus megaterium SR7 can, indeed, produced isobutanol while growing in supercritical carbon dioxide.

Timko’s team performed calculations on the complete process for growing the organism, producing isobutanol, extracting it from the fermentation mixture, and recovering it so it can be used as a fuel.

“We used 30 years' worth of scientific experience to build this process,” he said. “Just having an organism that can grow in supercritical carbon dioxide isn’t much of a splash but producing isobutanol and being able to siphon it off at the right rate—all together that’s a big, big splash.”

Timko noted that there are still questions to be answered. For example, they want to know how to produce isobutanol more robustly in a supercritical fluid, and how to engineer the microbe so it will replicate more quickly.

“Think of Bacillus megaterium as a little chemical factory,” he said. “This chemical factory actually is self-replicating. The more effectively it can copy itself, the better it can produce a product. We need as many little microscopic factories as possible. This is the challenge researchers have been trying to overcome: How can we keep these little creatures alive long enough for them to generate the volume of isobutanol that we need?”

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI, a global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 45 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more. http://www.wpi.edu

Contact:
Jessica Messier, Public Relations Specialist
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, Massachusetts
508-831-5937, jmmessier (at) wpi (dot) edu

Read the full story at https://www.prweb.com/releases/worcester_polytechnic_institute_helps_develop_a_novel_extraction_process_that_may_provide_a_more_economical_way_to_make_a_promising_biofuel/prweb16253779.htm.


'/>"/>
Source: PRWeb
Copyright©2019 Vocus, Inc.
All rights reserved


Related biology technology :

1. A New Kind of Thinking Cap: Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researchers Are Using Brain Imaging to Improve Personalized Learning Environments
2. Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researchers Developing a Biosensor That Can Speed Diagnosis of Potentially Deadly Bacterial Infection
3. Taming the Hairy Ball: Worcester Polytechnic Institute Computer Scientists Use Mixed Reality to Visualize Complex Biological Networks
4. Worcester Polytechnic Institute Receives National Institutes of Health Funding to Develop a Heart Muscle Patch
5. Worcester Polytechnic Institute Receives $1.6 million NIH Award to Study Gender Differences in Neurobiology
6. Histogen and Worcester Polytechnic Institute Receive Phase II NSF Award to Develop Unique Wound Treatment
7. Worcester Polytechnic Institute Team Grows Heart Tissue on Spinach Leaves
8. Worcester Polytechnic Institute Symposium Will Feature Keynote by Alumnus Dean Kamen
9. Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Advanced Biomanufacturing Symposium is March 27–28
10. Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researcher Receives $1.1 million NSF CAREER Award
11. Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researchers Build “Liquid Biopsy” Chip that Detects Metastatic Cancer Cells in a Drop of Blood
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:10/29/2019)... ... October 29, 2019 , ... Researchers at Sony ... Silios CMS-C multispectral imagers , researchers identified people by the image of a ... retinal imaging, face recognition, fingerprints and vasculature. , The new CMS4 series ...
(Date:10/22/2019)... ... 2019 , ... nQ Medical, Inc. of Cambridge, MA, was recognized in the ... was announced at a showcase event yesterday in Los Angeles. nQ competed against 3,500 ... and impressive near-term growth projections to be named one of the most fundable companies ...
(Date:10/22/2019)... ANGELES (PRWEB) , ... October 22, 2019 , ... ... provider, today announced integration of the Alertus Mass Notification System into its digital ... infrastructure to the Enplug platform, making it possible for users to leverage their ...
(Date:10/17/2019)... ... October 15, 2019 , ... TopConsumerReviews.com recently gave their ... Testing for health and/or genealogy research purposes. , There are many reasons why ... want to know more about themselves at a cellular level: family history, predisposition ...
Breaking Biology Technology:
(Date:11/12/2019)... ... November 12, 2019 , ... G5, the ... digital advertising performance up to 25% and reduces cost-per-click by as much as ... advanced multi-touch attribution (MTA) to predict best advertising outcomes and automatically allocate daily ...
(Date:11/12/2019)... ... November 12, 2019 , ... Atlantic Ultraviolet Corporation (AUV), ... that distributors voted their patented automatic and manual wipers the #1 best feature ... most frequent maintenance task required of an ultraviolet water purifier is quartz sleeve ...
(Date:11/9/2019)... ... ... SiteSeer Technologies, creator of SiteSeer Professional retail site selection software, is pleased ... The boutique real estate developer of single and multi-tenant buildings on sites ranging from ... analysis of markets. , Geoffrey Kerth, manager of GPK Acquisitions, says that his ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):