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Scientists are a step closer to developing renewable propane

12 April 2015

Researchers have made a significant breakthrough in the development of synthetic pathways that will enable renewable biosynthesis of the gas propane.

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Manchester

The study, conducted by researchers at The University of Manchester, Imperial College London and the University of Turku (and published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels), provides new insight and understanding of the development of next-generation biofuels. 

Creating a synthetic pathway for biosynthesis of the gas propane, this work is believed to bring scientists one step closer to the commercial production of renewable propane, a vital development as fossil fuels continue to dwindle. Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) at the University of Manchester, explains the significance of the work:

"The chemical industry is undergoing a major transformation as a consequence of unstable energy costs, limited natural resources and climate change. Efforts to find cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy as well as using biotechnology techniques to produce synthetic chemicals are currently being developed at The University of Manchester."

Natural metabolic pathways for the renewable biosynthesis of propane do not exist but scientists at the University have developed an alternative microbial biosynthetic pathway to produce renewable propane. The team, led by Nigel Scrutton and Dr Patrik Jones from Imperial College, modified existing fermentative butanol pathways using an engineered enzyme variant to redirect the microbial pathway to produce propane as opposed to butanol. The team was able to achieve propane biosynthesis creating a platform for next-generation microbial propane production.

Propane can be stored and transported in a compressed liquid form, while under ambient conditions it is a clean-burning gas, with existing global markets and infrastructure for storage, distribution and utilisation in a wide range of applications.

According to Professor Scrutton, the study expands the metabolic toolbox for renewable propane production, providing new insight and understanding of the development of next-generation biofuels which one day could lead to commercial production.

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