Exxon, Shell and other major energy companies have made substantial investments in biofuels, and the reason for their investments is not their antagonism to traditional fossil fuels. Instead, their investments represent a pragmatic view of a potentially profitable source of energy – biofuels.
Just this week, Jay Keasling and Fuzhong Zhang published new findings in Nature Biotechnology that could make biofuels cheaper and more economically viable. While we have known for some time how to produce diesel and other related fuels from plants like algae, we have not yet succeeded in making the process successful on a large scale.
The findings of these two researchers from the University of California Berkeley’s Joint BioEnergy Institute have confirmed the capability for engineered bacteria to engage in self-regulation that increases their efficiency and stability. Bacteria like E. coli produce enzymes that catalyze the synthesis of fatty acids, leading to the production of hydrocarbons like biodiesel. By addressing the genetic regulator of bacteria, Professors Keasling and Zhang have demonstrated a means to improve yields.
Of course, there are still many issues that must be addressed in order to make biofuels a realistic source of a substantial amount of our energy. Still, research like this brings us a little closer to a viable process for producing usable sources of renewable energy that augment our dependence on fossil fuels.