Nottingham professor in search to make low carbon fuel
THE University of Nottingham is to play a key role exploring how to make low-carbon fuel.
It has won a share of a £20m Government grant that could revolutionise major UK industries.
The money from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will pay for six projects such as producing low-carbon fuel and reducing the cost of industrial raw materials.
It will also help to build a world-leading synthetic biology research community in the UK.
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Nottingham's share for synthetic biology projects, announced by Chancellor George Osborne at the Royal Society, is £2.9m.
Led by Professor Nigel Minton, Nottingham University researchers in the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences will maximise the use of sustainable forms of energy by harnessing the ability of certain bacteria to "consume" the gas carbon monoxide and convert it into useful chemicals and fuels.
"If we can use it to provide more sustainable energy, it would also result in a reduction in fossil carbon emissions," said Professor Minton. "Carbon monoxide is an abundant resource and a waste product of industries such as steel manufacturing, oil refining and chemical production.
"It can be readily generated in the form of synthesis gas or syngas, by heating forestry and agricultural residues, municipal waste and coal."
He said that by using all these available low-cost, non-food resources, the process overcomes the "food versus fuel" issues associated with traditional ethanol production.
It also circumvents many challenges associated with "second-generation biofuels".
Some biofuel generation through biological systems have relied on conversion of plant materials, such as sugars and starch.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "Synthetic biology could provide solutions to the global challenges we face and offers significant growth opportunities in a range of important sectors from health to energy. However the commercialisation of basic science is largely untapped.
"This investment is part of the Government's commitment to making the UK a world leader in the research and application of synthetic biology. It will help to ensure that academics and industry can realise its full potential."
Professor Minton is working closely with LanzaTech, a New Zealand company specialising in the field. Its chief executive, Jennifer Holmgren, said: "This project signifies the increased importance of synthetic biology in a low-carbon future.
"This project enables us to combine LanzaTech's molecular biology experts under the leadership of our founder and chief scientific officer, Dr Sean Simpson, with the world-class science in Professor Nigel Minton's laboratory.
"We will focus on the development of novel industrial strains for direct production of high-value, low-carbon footprint chemicals from non-food resources," added Jennifer Holmgren.