A group of South Korean scientists has successfully developed genetically modified microbes that can produce gasoline for the first time in the world, the science ministry said Monday.
The team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has successfully developed bacteria, through metabolic engineering, that consume glucose and produce, or rather excrete, gasoline, according to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
The outcome of the research, led by KAIST Prof. Lee Sang-yeop, was published Monday in the online edition of the international science journal Nature.
The technology to produce fuel with microbes was developed in the United States in 2010, but the previous technology only produced biodiesel or an alkane with 13 to 17 carbon atoms.
An alkane is a saturated hydrocarbon that makes up the composition of oil and natural gas.
The ministry said it was fairly easy to obtain an alkane with a large number of carbon atoms in the natural environment, but that the conversion of the naturally found alkane into gasoline required a long and expensive process known as cracking.
The latest technology developed by the KAIST team, however, produces an alkane with 4 to 12 carbon atoms, similar to that of conventional gasoline.
It still has a different composition from that of conventional gasoline, but it can be used in all applications that use conventional gasoline, the ministry said in a press release.
Using this technology, the team produced 580 milligrams of gasoline from 1 liter of solution containing metabolically engineered microbes
"The productive efficiency is still very low, but the research is still significant in that it has successfully produced gasoline, using metabolically engineered microbes," Prof. Lee was quoted as saying. "We will continue our research to find ways to improve our productive efficiency."