The Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg participates in the new EU-funded FP7 collaborative project "Direct biological conversion of solar energy to volatile hydrocarbon fuels by engineered cyanobacteria" (Acronym: DirectFuel), starting OCT 1, 2010, with Prof. Wolfgang Hess, Department of Genetics, Faculty of Biology, as the principal investigator. The 9-partner project is coordinated from the University of Turku, Finland and is carried out over 4 years, with a total maximum project funding of 3,729,519 EUR.
The consortium includes partners in seven countries: Finland, Germany, UK, USA, Denmark, Italy and the Czech Republic. The DirectFuel project is combining the approaches of systems biology with the tools of synthetic biology to develop a photobiological process for direct conversion of sunlight and CO2 into engine- and infrastructure-ready transport fuels.
The DirectFuel project sets the challenging target of developing a photobiological process for direct conversion of sunlight and CO2 into engine- and infrastructure-ready transport fuels such as propane. Biological energy-conversion processes are particularly well-suited for production of the hydrocarbon fuel molecules that today's transport industry rely on. However, the natural capability for such a conversion is limited, the task of the DirectFuel project is therefore to construct new metabolic pathways with such capability. Propane is chosen as a key-target as it is volatile at room temperature (at atmospheric pressure), yet easily liquefied at moderate pressure. As a consequence, this allows the fuel product to be harvested without disturbing the biological production process (thereby avoiding the need to extract fuel or fuel-precursors) while still allowing the fuel to be directly and easily used under high energy-density storage conditions. Propane has already been utilized as vehicle fuel for over half a century and many EU countries already have an existing infrastructure for distribution of liquefied propane in the form of LPG. For example, over 5,000 petrol stations in Germany sell LPG. The entire process is thus tailored for both high-efficiency production and direct implementation through compatibility with current distribution and end-use infrastructures.
The DirectFuel project covers a broad spectrum of methodologies and R&D questions, including (1) enzyme screening, evolution and targeted engineering, (2) computational modeling of photobiological metabolism, (3) engineering and optimization of the metabolism of cyanobacteria, (4) development of photobioreactor technology and (5) theoretical life cycle analysis.