Engineered bacteria produces biobased rocket fuel alternative

By Staff | June 05, 2014

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have engineered a bacterium to synthesize pinene, a hydrocarbon with potential to replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10 used in missiles and other aerospace applications.

 Pinene is produced in nature by trees. According to information released by Georgia Tech, researchers inserted enzymes from trees into the bacterium and were able to boost pinene production six-fold over earlier bioengineering efforts. To be commercially competitive, production must be boosted by an estimated 26-fold. Researchers said that is within the range of possibilities for bioengineering the E. coli.

The amount of PT-10 that can be extracted from a barrel of oil is limited. That limited supply drives up the price of the fuel to approximately $25 per gallon. That high price point gives researchers working on a biobased JP-10 an advantage over scientists working to produce replacements for lower-priced gasoline and diesel.