The Department of Energy has awarded University of Minnesota researchers and a startup company $2.2 million to use bacteria to produce biofuel.
The grant is one of 37 projects receiving $151 million from the Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The money has been set aside to give U.S. researchers a chance to take a leadership role in the field of renewable energy technology.
The university team is made up of researchers from several fields, including biochemistry, chemical engineering and microbiology. Larry Wackett, a biochemistry professor, is leading the team, which is working with BioCee, a university startup company.
The project involves developing a bioreactor using bacteria embedded in a thin latex coating to produce bio-hydrocarbon fuel, potentially for use in motor vehicles. Hydrocarbon fuels can be transported and used with existing infrastructure.
Wackett said using bacteria to make biofuel is more efficient than the current process to make ethanol.
"If we were successful and could show that this could be done cheaply, then there would be people lining up to take it to the next stage," he said.
University of Minnesota researchers will also work with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where scientists have used blue-green algae to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and combine it with bacteria to produce hydrocarbons.
Researchers hope that by combining their expertise, they will be able to develop a new technology that can be used on a large scale to produce bio-hydrocarbons.
"Anything that's going to be used to make fuel is going to have to be very efficient, because it's going to have to operate on a very large scale," Wackett said. "There's still some challenges to get something to work at the scale that's going to be required for commodity work."