Scientists have genetically engineered the E. coli bacteria to produce a carbon-rich alcohol molecule equivalent in energy to gasoline, Popular Mechanics reports. The “long-chain” alcohol does not occur in nature, but with six to eight atoms of carbon, it is far more efficient than ethanol, which has only two. “Long-chain alcohols can be directly used in automobiles or aircraft,” the lead scientist said.
The breakthrough comes as other concerns investigate microbial production of biodiesel, a heavier fuel with 12 to 16 carbon atoms per molecule. Like biodiesel, the E. coli alcohol fuel is produced when the organism metabolizes sugars. But the lead scientist said the alcohol, which contains more oxygen than diesel, will burn more cleanly and efficiently. And it “can be used without vehicle modification.”