New Biofuel Cooked Up By Energy Department

The Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center announced this month that scientists have found a way to to produce isobutanol from cellulose. Isobutanol is a colorless, flammable liquid with a higher alcohol content than ethanol. And unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended into gasoline at any ratio, which gives researchers hope that implementation will not need infrastructure upgrades for most vehicles.

Because isobutanol is comparably more close to gasoline in terms of energy density, octane value, and volatility than ethanol, scientists are hoping the biofuel might even directly replace gasoline in some engines.

Image via Department of Energy

Scientists Wendy Higashide, Yongchao Li, and Yunfeng Yang collaborated to genetically engineer a cellulose-degrading microbe strain of Clostridium cellulolyticum that would produce an isomer of butanol, a feat never accomplished before. The team was able to develop the microbe from decayed grass, using data from the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute. Their work is based, in part, on their previous research at UCLA, and also from advancements in ethanol production.

The team published their findings in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the abstract of which can be found online.

Aaron Colter is a freelance writer and marketing consultant in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of Purdue University, he has worked for the NCAA, Dark Horse Comics, Willamette Week, AOL, The Huffington Post, Top Shelf Productions, DigitalTrends, theMIX agency, SuicideGirls, EarthTechling, d'Errico Studios and others. He is also the co-founder of, a free record label, recording studio, and distribution service for independent musicians.

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