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Synthetic biodiesel from sugar makes oil-based diesel look primitive and costly
Dateline: 9 April 2010

Amyris has launched their second-generation biofuel, and it looks like they’re taking the market by storm. The new diesel is ‘manufactured’ by tiny microbes directly from sugar cane pulp.

The American biotechnology company has spent the last two years perfecting the process by which their genetically engineered micro-organism converts the natural carbohydrate energy in sugar to a chemical equivalent of oil-based diesel. Now, in collaboration with the Brazilian ethanol giant Crystalsev, they are pumping up the volume.

The exact nature of their biotech creation remains a closely guarded secret, but the organism contains genes from several different biological species, including a range of bacteria, algae, fungi and insects.

Other big producers of bio-diesel from algae and oil-seed feedstocks have been riding high on demand created by the US$200 oil price, but their process involves squeezing out the oil with high-pressure hot presses. This is costly and old-fashioned by comparison, and generates tons of waste.

“We just feed the microbes sugar, and they excrete diesel,” says an Amyris spokesperson. “What could be simpler?”

Even the demand for crude oil could fall in the face of this new fuel breakthrough.

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