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Cleaner energy

Industrial biotechnology

Global challenges

Manchester solutions

Helping to conserve our natural environment

The effects of fossil carbon depletion and climate change mean that it is vital, now more than ever, that we find cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy; our survival and well-being depend on it. Now, a significant breakthrough in biotechnology research at The University of Manchester could revolutionise the production of a form of cleaner energy that is affordable to industry.

Global problem: making cleaner energy commercially viable  

With continually rising carbon dioxide levels, of which industry is a large contributor, industrial biotechnology is one of the most promising new approaches to pollution prevention, resource conservation and cost reduction. 

Biofuel field

Biofuels are a significant area of biotechnology research whereby fuels are produced through a biological process as opposed to a geological process as with fossil fuels.

Although many sustainable biofuels on the market today are derived from plant materials, they have an adverse impact on food security, the natural environment and land use.

The University of Manchester is dedicated to the global energy challenge of developing new technologies where biofuel commercialisation is sustainable, economically viable, and environmentally friendly.

Manchester solution: creating synthetic, cost-effective renewables

At our Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB), we have made a significant breakthrough in the development of synthetic pathways that will enable renewable biosynthesis of propane gas.

"This has the potential to revolutionise the production of biofuel – exactly the kind of cleaner, more sustainable form of energy that the world needs if we are to tackle the effects of fossil carbon depletion and climate change."

Professor Nigel Scrutton / Director, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology

Natural metabolic pathways for the renewable biosynthesis of propane do not exist, but MIB researchers – in collaboration with The University of Turku in Finland and Imperial College London – have made a significant breakthrough in the development of an alternative microbial biosynthetic pathway to produce renewable propane.  

Propane has very good physicochemical properties that allow it to be stored and transported in a compressed liquid form. It is a cleaner burning alternative fuel that has been used for decades in a wide range of applications from heating to vehicle fuel. 

Our University spin-out C3 BioTechnologies Ltd is pursuing the commercial production of bio-propane through synthetic biology. The company is spearheaded by MIB Director Professor Nigel Scrutton and Michael Smith, Director of PressureTech Transport Services Ltd, a specialist regional supplier of liquid petroleum gas (LPG). 

Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology
Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology

Professor Scrutton says: “The benefits of fossil fuel-based LPG are already proven within the world energy market, and a robust, reliable distribution infrastructure exists which will enable new volumes of bio-propane to be introduced to the market without significant change or investment from both local suppliers and consumers.

“This has the potential to revolutionise the production of biofuel – exactly the kind of cleaner, more sustainable form of energy that the world needs if we are to tackle the effects of fossil carbon depletion and climate change. We foresee a high industry demand for this exciting offer.”

Industry-changing impacts

The development of an economically sustainable manufacturing process for full-scale bio-propane production would:

  • transform the biofuel industry without adversely impacting food security, the natural environment and land use;
  • enable new volumes of bio-propane to be introduced to the market without significant change or investment from both local suppliers and consumers. 

Find out more

Read the research paper:

Meet the researchers:

Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM)