Fuel additives are generally petroleum or chemical based supplements injected into fuel that serve a number of purposes — cleaning the engine to reduce emissions related to global warming, lubricating parts or increasing gas mileage. Thomas Bobik, professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology at Iowa State University has developed a process to turn plant glucose into isobutene — which is used in fuels as well as in rubbers, plastics and adhesives. If proven effective this could be a huge boost to the biofuel and bio-plastic industries.

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Isobutene is a gas, so we can imagine that it will be easy to remove the isobutene from the vessel in which it was made, and that should be a very cheap and efficient way to purify the biofuel,” said Bobik noting the process of purifying biofuels from the water in which it is made. Purifying biofuels is continually a difficult process for the renewable energy world. Currently one of the most expensive parts of producing biofuels is separating the resulting oil from water — this process is removed with Bobik’s plant-based additive because it is a gas.

Bobik and his team are hoping their additive will replace current fuel additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MBTE) which is harmful to the environment. He believes that this fuel additive will make biofuels more efficient and allow a larger mpg ratio. Previously scientists have only produced fuel additives that increase efficiency from petroleum products, which is not conducive to the biofuel industry. The current problem with Bobik’s conversion technology is that it takes too long to produce the resulting additive. “So we’re trying to use directed enzyme evolution to improve the activity of the enzyme so it can become commercially viable,” Bobik noted. His team thinks they’ll have a commercial friendly product within a decade.

+ Iowa State University

Via Science Daily