Renewable biofuels produced from seawater bacteria

Bacterial chassis for seawater biofuel

Date: 21st October 2019

Bacteria that can tolerate seawater may provide a new more environmentally friendly source of biofuel.

Biofuels are a renewable low-carbon energy source that are seen as an economical and environmental solution for ever-decreasing fossil fuel stocks.

Currently only 3% of global transport is fuelled by biofuels which falls well below the 10% recommended by the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) which presents the most desirable scenario to successfully limit climate change, by transforming the energy market and addressing air pollution.

Biofuels can be produced from plants, or from agricultural, commercial, domestic, and/or industrial wastes.  With the major contributor currently being plant-based, these forms often raise issues of their own; crops are grown with the sole purpose of biofuel in mind and therefore, require land, food, water and pesticides.

In more recent years, algae as a biofuel source has become a more popular alternative.  Projected yields are estimated to be high and the potential to circumvent some of the associated problems has lent weight to its use.  However, the feasibility of commercial-scale production has not lived-up to expectations and it has subsequently fallen out of favour as the answer to renewable energy.

Renewable biofuel engineered by synthetic biology

Now scientists from The University of Manchester, UK, are using synthetic biology to create a new generation of efficient, sustainable bio-based jet fuels.

The researchers, led by Prof Nigel Scrutton, have turned to a halophilic proteobacteria called Halomonas, to engineer a new microbial chassis to efficiently produce complex chemicals.

 An ideal chassis is an organism that contains or has been engineered to contain a simplified genome that allows full functionality and a metabolic network that is able to more efficiently synthesise a desire product.

 The team have re-engineered the microbe’s genome to alter its metabolism and designed the bacteria in such a way that it can create different types of chemical compounds; in this instance converting biological precursors to relevant jet fuels.

The ground breaking elements of this researcher are two-fold.

  • Firstly the bacteria grow in seawater.  Removing many of the obstacles of existing biomanufacture, for example, prime land and fresh water. Furthermore, it requires little downstream processing which adds to the economic viability.
  • Secondly, the bio-produced fuel intermediates are reportedly chemically identical to petroleum-based molecules, meaning they are interchangeable with current fuels and a re-design of engines and equipment won’t be necessary.


biofuel sourced from seawater bacteria

Wider application

With over 6,000 products made from crude oil, the application of this process will appeal to diverse industries across plastics, cosmetics and anaesthetics to name but a few.

Whilst the focus is currently on crude oil replacement, it would be interesting to determine whether this seawater bacteria would be advantageous in a wider biomanufacturing scope.  Survival in the harsh industrial setting can be a key factor in the success or failure of a potential chassis, however, as the durability of the Halomonas bacteria is high, a very long life span should be able to maintain a continuous bio-production process.


Read the press release for more information.