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U of M researchers close in on technology for making renewable petroleum
Date:3/23/2011

University of Minnesota researchers are a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and dioxide, a goal funded by a $2.2 million United States Department of Energy grant.

Graduate student Janice Frias, who earned her doctorate in January, made the critical step by figuring out how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by the bacteria into ketones, which can be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels. The university is filing patents on the process.

The research is published in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Frias, whose advisor was Larry Wackett, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Biochemistry, is lead author. Other team members include organic chemist Jack Richman, a researcher in the College of Biological Sciences' Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, and undergraduate Jasmine Erickson, a junior in the College of Biological Sciences. Wackett, who is senior author, is a faculty member in the College of Biological Sciences and the university's BioTechnology Institute.

"Janice Frias is a very capable and hard-working young scientist," Wackett says. "She exemplifies the valuable role graduate students play at a public research university."

Aditya Bhan and Lanny Schmidt, chemical engineering professors in the College of Science and Engineering, are turning the ketones into diesel fuel using catalytic technology they have developed. The ability to produce ketones opens the door to making petroleum-like hydrocarbon fuels using only bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide.

"There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels," Wackett says. "CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment. It's also free. And we can use the same infrastructure to process and transport this new hydrocarbon fuel that we use for fossil fuels
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Contact: Jeff Falk
jfalk@umn.edu
612-626-1720
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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