How ice-cream and soaps can help develop car fuels

London: Scientists have identified a new bio-catalyst which can manipulate hydrocarbon chemicals, found in ice-cream, soaps and shampoos, into ready-to-use fuels in cars.

Scientists at the University of Manchester believe this development could mean fuel for cars or household power supplies could be created from naturally-occurring fatty acids.

Researchers, led by Professor Nick Turner used synthetic biology to hijack the naturally-existing fatty acids and direct those fatty molecules towards the production of ready-to-use fuel and household chemicals.


Hydrocarbon chemicals are everywhere in our daily lives, as fragrance in soap, thickener in shampoo and fuel in the car.

Their number of carbons and whether they are acid, aldehyde, alcohol or alkane are important parameters that influence how toxic they are to biological organisms, the potential for fuel and their olfactory perception as aroma compounds.

The breakthrough allows researchers to further explore how to create renewable energy from sustainable sources, and the advance could lead to more innovative ways of sourcing fuel from natural resources.

"In our laboratories in Manchester we currently work with many different bio-catalysts that catalyse a range of chemical reactions - the key is to match up the correct bio-catalyst with the specific product you are trying to make," Turner said in a university statement.

"Bio-catalysts recognise molecules in the way that a lock recognises a key - they have to fit perfectly together to work. Sometime we redesign the lock so that if can accept a slightly different key allowing us to make even more interesting products.

"In this example we need to make sure that the fatty acid starting materials would be a perfect match for the bio-catalysts that we discovered and developed in our laboratories," Turner said.

The study was published in journal PNAS.


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