Enzyme Could Allow Cars to Run on Fumes

By Stephen Markley  on August 11, 2010

Scientists have isolated an enzyme in soybeans that could lead to cars that run on their own fumes, and perhaps, someday on thin air.

In the journal Science, researchers at the University of California-Irvine say they've manipulated a bacterial enzyme called vanadium nitrogenase that usually produces ammonia from nitrogen gas. They've found that by removing the nitrogen and oxygen and filling that space with carbon monoxide they can produce propane.

You may be used to using propane in a gas grill, but one of the researchers, Markus Ribbe, thinks that with a little more work they can create synthetic liquid fuels such as gasoline. Therefore, a car could run partially on its own carbon-monoxide emissions or, in the distant future, off the pollutant in the air.

Scientists have long known of the enzyme's importance because it's commonly used in agriculture for nitrogen-fixing plants like soybeans. Only in the last few years has the technology developed to extract, grow and store large amounts of the enzyme. Making the bacterial enzyme a practical industrial tool will still take some work. This technology is a long, long way from commercialization.

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