Fuel Additive Production Takes the Green Route

Research is on for the organic production of isobutene (isobutylene). Thomas Bobik, Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology and David Gogerty, a doctoral student are doing pioneer research for producing isobutylene with the help of a new but natural enzyme rather than from the traditional petroleum-based products. The enzyme is awaiting patent process completion.

Role of isobutene:

Isobutene is generally used as fuel additive and also for producing some chemicals like plastics, synthetic rubber, and adhesives. This is used in place of MBTE (methyl tert-butyl ether) as fuel additive (after being converted to isooctane); until now, obtained from petroleum products. Isooctane has been proved to be more beneficial than MBTE to the vehicles.

Converting glucose to isobutene:

The research has been focused on identifying a new natural enzyme. This new enzyme – called Bobik’s enzyme – is capable of converting glucose found in plants to produce isobutene. Actually this is an enzyme found to occur naturally in fifty percent of all organisms found all over the world.

Positive influence of the enzyme:

The impact of this enzyme – identified as capable of aiding in producing fuel additive organically – can be tremendous in the bio-fuel production field. Though it is still initial stages, the expectations are running high about the positive influence of isobutylene special features.

The advantages of bioconversion:

Bio-fuel industry will benefit greatly cost-wise with this biological process to manufacture isobutene. This will be an eco-friendly process, beneficial to the environment. In the traditional ethanol production, cost of separating ethanol from water is quite prohibitively high. But the new conversion process produces isobutene in the gas form and so biofuel purification process will be cheaper and more efficient.

Current limitations:

Presently, the enzyme takes a lot of time for conversion of glucose into isobutene and so commercially not very cost competitive. The research is on for making the enzyme expedite the production of isobutene.

Directed enzyme evolution:

Directed enzyme evolution is an effort to contrive a speedy and cost-effective production of isobutene with the help of the enzyme. Science is giving nature a helping hand in production of isobutene.

Future prospects:

According to Bobic, the day is not far off when every car will run on a mixture of bio-based and environmentally advantageous gas mixture which will help in making the world a better and cleaner place to live.

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