Washington University in St. Louis researchers have received a $3.9 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE). The grant is to develop bacteria that manufacture renewable biofuels — energy sources made from plants or microbes.
Researchers at the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering & Applied Science are seeking to make biofuels whose production would not compete with the food supply. For example, ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel typically made from corn or sugar cane. Instead, the researchers will engineer microbes to make biofuels from a toxic waste product of papermaking called lignin.
Another goal is to produce biofuels that could replace petroleum-based fuels.
Today’s cars can burn fuel that contains 10-15 percent ethanol. But specialized engines are required when the fuel has an ethanol percentage higher than that. Biofuels that are chemically indistinguishable from fossil fuels could replace petroleum-based fuel for existing cars — a major development.
The grant supports five Washington University labs, including those led by co-principal investigators Gautam Dantas, associate professor of pathology and immunology; Tae Seok Moon, assistant professor of energy, environment and chemical engineering; Marcus B. Foston, assistant professor of energy, environment and chemical engineering; Yinjie Tang, associate professor of energy, environment and chemical engineering; and Fuzhong Zhang, associate professor of energy, environment and chemical engineering. Hector Garcia Martin of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is also a collaborator.