In the words of synthetic biologist Yasuo Yoshikuni, one of the reserachers working on the project, seaweed has a very “exotic” sugar inside it. Yoshikuni isolated the genes inside the kobmu seaweed plant and inserted them into E. coli. They then mixed the mutant E. coli with some ground up kombu seaweed, and left it alone for two days.
At the end of two days, 5% of the kombu mixture now contained ethanol and water (though the article does not mention what percentage was water, and what was ethanol.) This was done at temperatures between 77 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, just above room temperature. Considering that many ethanol processes require temperatures much, much higher, converting seaweed into ethanol using E. coli would be a much less energy-intensive process. The researchers estimate that by growing this type of seaweed on less than 1% of America’s territorial waters, we could reduce our dependency on oil by approximately 1%.