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Chemists ID Catalytic 'Key' for Converting CO2 to Methanol

Results from experiments and computational modeling studies that definitively identify the "active site" of a catalyst commonly used for making methanol from CO2 will guide the design of improved catalysts for transforming this pollutant to useful chemicals.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy Achieves Unprecedented Resolution Using New Computational Methods

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)--which enables the visualization of viruses, proteins, and other biological structures at the molecular level--is a critical tool used to advance biochemical knowledge. Now Berkeley Lab researchers have extended cryo-EM's impact further by developing a new computational algorithm instrumental in constructing a 3-D atomic-scale model of bacteriophage P22 for the first time.

New Study Maps Space Dust in 3-D

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides detailed 3-D views of space dust in the Milky Way, which could help us understand the properties of this dust and how it affects views of distant objects.

Single-Angle Ptychography Allows 3D Imaging of Stressed Materials

Scientists have used a new X-ray diffraction technique called Bragg single-angle ptychography to get a clear picture of how planes of atoms shift and squeeze under stress.

New Feedback System Could Allow Greater Control Over Fusion Plasma

A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.

Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells

Researchers from Ames Laboratory used supercomputers at NERSC to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells by optimizing nanophotonic light trapping.

Study IDs Link Between Sugar Signaling and Regulation of Oil Production in Plants

UPTON, NY--Even plants have to live on an energy budget. While they're known for converting solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, plants have sophisticated biochemical mechanisms for regulating how they spend that energy. Making oils costs a lot. By exploring the details of this delicate energy balance, a group of scientists from the U.

High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Two-Dimensional MXene Materials Get Their Close-Up

Researchers have long sought electrically conductive materials for economical energy-storage devices. Two-dimensional (2D) ceramics called MXenes are contenders.


Three SLAC Employees Awarded Lab's Highest Honor

At a March 7 ceremony, three employees of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were awarded the lab's highest honor ­- the SLAC Director's Award.

Dan Sinars Represents Sandia in First Energy Leadership Class

Dan Sinars, a senior manager in Sandia National Laboratories' pulsed power center, which built and operates the Z facility, is the sole representative from a nuclear weapons lab in a new Department of Energy leadership program that recently visited Sandia.

ORNL, HTS International Corporation to Collaborate on Manufacturing Research

HTS International Corporation and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed an agreement to explore potential collaborations in advanced manufacturing research.

Jefferson Lab Director Honored with Energy Secretary Award

Hugh Montgomery, director of the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), was awarded The Secretary's Distinguished Service Award by the Secretary of Energy earlier this year.

New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive

Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California's total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

Southern Research Project Advances Novel CO2 Utilization Strategy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy has awarded Southern Research nearly $800,000 for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing some of the most important chemicals used in manufacturing.

Harker School Wins 2017 SLAC Regional Science Bowl Competition

After losing its first match of the day to the defending champions, The Harker School's team won 10 consecutive rounds to claim victory in the annual SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative

Alexander brings extensive management and leadership experience in computational science research to the position.

Kalinin, Paranthaman Elected Materials Research Society Fellows

Two researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sergei Kalinin and Mariappan Parans Paranthaman, have been elected fellows of the Materials Research Society.

Two PNNL Researchers Elected to Membership in the National Academy of Engineering

Two scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will become members of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.


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Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Modeling the "Flicker" of Gluons in Subatomic Smashups

A new model identifies a high degree of fluctuations in the glue-like particles that bind quarks within protons as essential to explaining proton structure.

Rare Nickel Atom Has "Doubly Magic" Structure

Supercomputing calculations confirm that rare nickel-78 has unusual structure, offering insights into supernovas.

Microbial Activity in the Subsurface Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Fluxes

Natural carbon dioxide production from deep subsurface soils contributes significantly to emissions, even in a semiarid floodplain.

Stretching a Metal Into an Insulator

Straining a thin film controllably allows tuning of the materials' magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties, essential for new energy and electronic devices.

How Moisture Affects the Way Soil Microbes Breathe

Study models soil-pore features that hold or release carbon dioxide.

ARM Data Is for the Birds

Scientists use LIDAR and radar data to study bird migration patterns, thanks to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

The Future of Coastal Flooding

Better storm surge prediction capabilities could help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Estimating Global Energy Use for Water-Related Processes

Scientists find that water-related energy consumption is increasing across the globe, with pronounced differences across regions and sectors.


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Engineered Bacteria Produce Biofuel Alternative for High-Energy Rocket Fuel

Article ID: 615668

Released: 2014-03-26 15:00:00

Source Newsroom: Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Credit: Georgia Tech Photo: Rob Felt

    Georgia Tech researchers examine the production of the hydrocarbon pinene in a series of laboratory test tubes. Shown are (l-r) Pamela Peralta-Yahya, an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Stephen Sarria, a graduate student in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

  • Credit: Georgia Tech Photo: Rob Felt

    By placing colonies of E. coli engineered to produce pinene into test tubes containing glucose, researchers were able to determine which enzyme combinations produced the hydrocarbon most efficiently.

  • Credit: Georgia Tech Photo: Rob Felt

    Pamela Peralta-Yahya, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, shows samples used to study the production of pinene by colonies of bioengineered E. coli.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have engineered a bacterium to synthesize pinene, a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10, in missiles and other aerospace applications. With improvements in process efficiency, the biofuel could supplement limited supplies of petroleum-based JP-10, and might also facilitate development of a new generation of more powerful engines.

By inserting enzymes from trees into the bacterium, first author and Georgia Tech graduate student Stephen Sarria, working under the guidance of assistant professor Pamela Peralta-Yahya, boosted pinene production six-fold over earlier bioengineering efforts. Though a more dramatic improvement will be needed before pinene dimers can compete with petroleum-based JP-10, the scientists believe they have identified the major obstacles that must be overcome to reach that goal.

Funded by Georgia Tech startup funds awarded to Peralta-Yahya’s lab and by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the research was reported February 27, 2014, in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

“We have made a sustainable precursor to a tactical fuel with a high energy density,” said Peralta-Yahya, an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech. “We are concentrating on making a ‘drop-in’ fuel that looks just like what is being produced from petroleum and can fit into existing distribution systems.”

Fuels with high energy densities are important in applications where minimizing fuel weight is important. The gasoline used to power automobiles and the diesel used mainly in trucks both contain less energy per liter than the JP-10. The molecular arrangement of JP-10, which includes multiple strained rings of carbon atoms, accounts for its higher energy density.

The amount of JP-10 that can be extracted from each barrel of oil is limited, and sources of potentially comparable compounds such as trees can’t provide much help. The limited supply drives the price of JP-10 to around $25 per gallon. That price point gives researchers working on a biofuel alternative a real advantage over scientists working on replacing gasoline and diesel.

“If you are trying to make an alternative to gasoline, you are competing against $3 per gallon,” Peralta-Yahya noted. “That requires a long optimization process. Our process will be competitive with $25 per gallon in a much shorter time.”

While much research has gone into producing ethanol and bio-diesel fuels, comparatively little work has been done on replacements for the high-energy JP-10.

Peralta-Yahya and collaborators set out to improve on previous efforts by studying alternative enzymes that could be inserted into the E. coli bacterium. They settled on two classes of enzymes – three pinene synthases (PS) and three geranyl diphosphate synthases (GPPS) – and experimented to see which combinations produced the best results.

Their results were much better than earlier efforts, but the researchers were puzzled because for a different hydrocarbon, similar enzymes produced more fuel per liter. So they tried an additional step to improve their efficiency. They placed the two enzymes adjacent to one another in the E. coli cells, ensuring that molecules produced by one enzyme would immediately contact the other. That boosted their production to 32 milligrams per liter – much better than earlier efforts, but still not competitive with petroleum-based JP-10.

Peralta-Yahya believes the problem now lies with built-in process inhibitions that will be more challenging to address.

“We found that the enzyme was being inhibited by the substrate, and that the inhibition was concentration-dependent,” she said. “Now we need either an enzyme that is not inhibited at high substrate concentrations, or we need a pathway that is able to maintain low substrate concentrations throughout the run. Both of these are difficult, but not insurmountable, problems.”

To be competitive, the researchers will have to boost their production of pinene 26-fold. Peralta-Yahya says that’s within the range of possibilities for bioengineering the E. coli.

“Even though we are still in the milligrams per liter level, because the product we are trying to make is so much more expensive than diesel or gasoline means that we are relatively closer,” she said.

Theoretically, it may be possible to produce pinene at a cost lower than that of petroleum-based sources. If that can be done – and if the resulting bio-fuel operates well in these applications – that could open the door for lighter and more powerful engines fueled by increased supplies of high-energy fuels. Pinene dimers, which result from the dimerization of pinene, have already been shown to have an energy density similar to that of JP-10.

Co-authors from the Joint BioEnergy Institute included Betty Wong, Hector Garcia Martin and Professor Jay D. Keasling, co-corresponding author of the paper.

CITATION: Stephen Sarria, et al., “Microbial Synthesis of Pinene,” (ACS Synthetic Biology, 2014). (http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/sb4001382).

This work was started at the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and finished at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The work at JBEI was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research through contract DE-AC02-05CH11231 between Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy. The work at the Georgia Institute of Technology was funded by startup funds awarded to the Peralta-Yahya laboratory. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the DOE.

Research News

Georgia Institute of Technology

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Media Relations Contacts: John Toon (jtoon@gatech.edu) (404-894-6986) or Brett Israel (brett.israel@comm.gatech.edu) (404-385-1933).

Writer: John Toon