Green Design

Bio-Based Process for Producing Fuel Additive

A new bio-based method for producing a much-used fuel additive and industrial chemical, which is currently made from petroleum products, has been developed by an Iowa State University researcher.

Thomas Bobik, professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology, invented a process for manufacturing isobutene (isobutylene) by identifying a new, natural enzyme that produces the fuel organically. Bobik and David Gogerty, a doctoral student working with him on the project, believe that once more research is completed, there could be huge benefits to the biofuels industry.

Bobik's enzyme makes it possible to convert the glucose found naturally in plants to make isobutene. The enzyme is found naturally in about half of all organisms in the world. While patent applications proceed, Bobik will not disclose the specific enzyme.

Isobutene is a gas used to produce chemicals and also in the manufacturing of fuel additives, adhesives, plastics, and synthetic rubber. It can be chemically converted to isooctane, which is a fuel that could be used to replace gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MBTE), which can be environmentally harmful.