Bacteria can produce rocket fuel

The Streptomyces bacterium produces a substance that can be used as rocket fuel. Scientists are convinced that it is not only environmentally friendly, but also quite powerful.

Fuel produced by bacteria. Source:

Bacteria that produce rocket fuel

Scientists from the United States Biofuels Institute claim that they can obtain a substance from bacteria of the genus Streptomyces that can be used as fuel for space rockets. It is called the methyl ester of polycylcopropanated fatty acids, or POP-FAME for short.

The research that led to the discovery of bacteria that produce rocket fuel began with the study of substances having rings of three carbon atoms. In the 1980s, these substances were known as the result of the vital activity of some bacteria. Scientists analyzed the genome of S. roseoverticillatus and were able to discover a substance called jawsamycin.

This substance turned out to be an effective antifungal drug and researchers began to study other bacteria of the genus Streptomyces. As a result, S. albireticuli bacteria were found to produce a small amount of POP-FAME. Thanks to genetic manipulation, scientists managed to teach them to produce it in sufficient quantities.

Culture of bacteria of the genus Streptomyces. Source: Pablo Morales-Cruz

Will the new rocket fuel become revolutionary

Whether the new fuel will really be worthy of its production is a debatable question. Its main advantage is called environmental cleanliness. But by what parameter it, like all hydrocarbons, loses to liquid hydrogen, which, when reacting with oxygen, forms ordinary water.

However, the authors of the study reasonably note that to obtain environmentally friendly hydrogen, it is necessary to use a bunch of very unpleasant substances on Earth, which its advantages reduce to zero. And in order to get POP-FAME, it’s enough to simply “feed” organic waste such as wood or household garbage to bacteria. And environmental assessments will no longer be so terrible.

In addition, liquid hydrogen needs cryogenic equipment installed on the rocket, but POP-FAME does not. Therefore, the rocket on it will have a larger relative fuel reserve. Scientists also hope that the new substance will give more energy during combustion.

This is due to the molecular structure of POP-FAME. It contains up to seven triatomic rings. According to scientists, they create a huge internal stress, which, when reacting with oxygen, will turn into thermal energy that accelerates the molecules. 

In addition, the structure of the molecules allows the substance to shrink quite easily. Therefore, in the same volume, we can get a larger mass of fuel, which means we can get a larger supply of energy. If a rocket powered by this fuel can be realized, it really can become a small, but breakthrough in the space industry.

According to

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