Propane has been touted as an alternative to both gasoline and natural gas as it offers excellent energy density, but burns much cleaner. Unfortunately, propane is a byproduct of oil refining, which means to get propane, you had to drill for oil. Until now.
Researchers from the College of London have used a modified strain of E. coli to produce propane gas from glucose, delivering a renewable fuel that can heat homes and power cars, reports the Guardian. Though the tests only produced tiny amounts of propane, it’s a proof-of-concept that mankind can replicate a process that, until now, only happened during gasoline production. While the process could also be used to produce petrol or diesel, it’s much more energy intensive (i.e. costly), while producing propane is relatively low cost and easy. It can also be liquified and transported using existing infrastructure.
Alas, it still requires a combustion engine to burn the greener propane, and compared to electric vehicles, even the greener propane is still many times more dirty.
As a transitional fuel though, perhaps this synthesized propane has a place in the world, heating off-the-grid homes, cattle barns, and even powering vehicles (the UK for example has about 160,000 propane-powered cars). Renewable propane would also mean we could do away with damaging drilling operations in some of the world’s most vulnerable environments.
It’s an incremental step, but a step all the same.