E. coli may not be the smartest thing for your body to ingest, but this bacteria could be just the thing to get vehicles up and running around more efficiently. A team of researchers at LS9 — a self-described “renewable petroleum company” — have discovered that the unsavory Escherichia coli could be used to make so-called “drop-in” biofuels at existing pipelines and refineries.

According to LS9, a diesel-like fuel can be yielded by feeding glucose to E. coli bacteria — one of only two known pathways for engineered microbes to produce pure hydrocarbons, with the alternative pathway, used by biofuel companies like Amyris, requiring extra chemical conversion. On the whole more efficient, LS9’s discovery requires only one step in the feedstock to fuel process. An added benefit of this mode of production comes from the fact that E.coli can be grown simply on any sugar, including second-generation (read: non-food) biofuel feedstocks like grass.

So far, LS9 researchers have produced 10 liters of E. coli-generated alkane (the main hydrocarbon found in gas, diesel, and jet fuel) in a 1,000-liter fermentation tank in the company’s labs. A larger scale demonstration plant is now in the works, and LS9 hopes that the the price point of E.coli-produced fuel could ring in at just $50 a barrel. Not bad news for a bacteria hated by meat-lovers everywhere.

+ LS9

Via New Scientist