Isooctane is used in gasoline to stop engine knocking and other problems. Currently, isooctane is produced from petroleum products.
Currently, one of the biggest expenses in producing the biofuel ethanol is the cost of separating the ethanol from the water where it's made. Bobik's new process will not include the cost of separation.
"Isobutene is a gas, so we can imagine that it will be easy to remove the isobutene from the vessel in which it was made, and that should be a very cheap and efficient way to purify the biofuel," said Bobik.
Though a drawback is that the process currently takes too long.
"The activity of the enzyme (in making the isobutene) is low," Bobik said. "It's too low for commercial application. So we're trying to use directed enzyme evolution to improve the activity of the enzyme so it can become commercially viable."
Directed enzyme evolution is the effort to engineer enzymes to perform certain functions. In this case, it is trying to find a way to get the enzyme to produce isobutene more quickly than in nature.