Taming biofuel-loving microbes

March 7, 2018, American Chemical Society

Most people are cautious around gasoline and diesel for good reason, but some microbes love the stuff—especially biofuels that contain fatty acid derivatives. So, as the world tries to go "green," it also has to consider the slime that such microbes leave behind, clogging up equipment and killing engines. An article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society explores the issue and what's being done about it.

Senior Correspondent Mitch Jacoby explains that these are not much of a concern for the typical motorist. But for airlines and other organizations that store large amounts of , contamination could be a problem. The U.S. Air Force, for example, has a mandate to rely more on biobased fuels in the coming years. Before using biofuels, military personnel made sure that the substances wouldn't interact badly with other materials it would come into contact with. However, they didn't consider the effects of microbiology. And as fleet operators started using blends of biodiesel and conventional fuels, they noticed contamination where none had existed. This caused some experts to look down on the .

But scientists are on the case. One team recently identified several bacteria and fungi wreaking havoc in actively used fuel tanks. The microbes coated metal panels placed in the tanks with orange and red slime, and caused corrosion and pitting. Another group has been analyzing genomes to help understand how microbes metabolize the fuels, and their findings could lead to safer ways of preventing contamination. Much more work is needed to sort through all of the possible factors, but scientists are well prepared to tackle this puzzle.

Explore further: Book a flight on 'Air Algae?'

More information: "Why efforts to use green fuels sometimes run afoul," cen.acs.org/articles/96/i10/ef … fuels-sometimes.html

Related Stories

Book a flight on 'Air Algae?'

June 13, 2012

When the smell of french fries wafts through the airplane cabin, is it from that guy in 24D scarfing down a fast-food meal — or the jet engines? That question certainly could be food-for-thought for imaginative passengers, ...

How airlines are cutting their carbon footprint

September 21, 2016

The global aviation industry has pledged that by 2050, it will reduce its net carbon emissions to half its 2005 levels. Achieving this will require not only improved engine efficiency and aerodynamics, but also a turn to ...

Team develops device to detect biodiesel contamination

September 5, 2013

In 2010, a Cathay Pacific Airways plane was arriving in Hong Kong when the engine control thrusts seized up and it was forced to make a hard landing—injuring dozens. The potential culprit? Contaminated fuel.

US Air Force: We want to use biofuels

July 19, 2011

The US Air Force is ready to switch to biofuels to help power its warplanes but the price of alternative fuels remains too high, military officials said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Detecting metabolites at close range

June 22, 2018

A novel concept for a biosensor of the metabolite lactate combines an electron transporting polymer with lactate oxidase, which is the enzyme that specifically catalyzes the oxidation of lactate. Lactate is associated with ...

CryoEM study captures opioid signaling in the act

June 22, 2018

Opioid drugs like morphine and fentanyl are a mainstay of modern pain medicine. But they also cause constipation, are highly addictive, and can lead to fatal respiratory failure if taken at too high a dose. Scientists have ...

Research team uncovers lost images from the 19th century

June 22, 2018

Art curators will be able to recover images on daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates, after a team of scientists led by Western University learned how to use light to see through degradation ...

Template to create superatoms could make for better batteries

June 21, 2018

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have discovered a novel strategy for creating superatoms—combinations of atoms that can mimic the properties of more than one group of elements of the periodic table. These superatoms ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.