World Transformation: Learning from Nature
 Learning from Nature
picture 27 Apr 2004 @ 04:04, by ming

From Synergic Earth News: BBC Science -- Scientists have recruited an unusual ally in their quest to produce safer, cheaper rocket fuel: bacteria. The microbes help make a key ingredient of a fuel mix used in missiles but could also reduce the cost of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels. The US military commissioned the work after discovering navy chemists were using the cheaper, but more dangerous, chemical nitroglycerine in its place. Details are published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The conventional manufacture of the propellant butanetriol costs $30 (£16) to $40 (£22) per pound. Together, the Navy and Army purchase about 15,000 pounds (6,803 kg) per year. Butanetriol is used to make another chemical called butanetriol trinitrate (BTTN) which is employed in the fuel mix of missiles such as the Hellfire, an air-to-ground attack missile fired from military helicopters such as the Apache and unmanned Predator drones. ... By modifying key genes in the bacteria E. coli and Pseudomonas fragi, researchers led by Dr John Frost of Michigan State University, US, have teased the microbes into making butanetriol from simple carbohydrates obtained from corn and sugar beet. The butanetriol is then nitrated to produce BTTN, which allows the missile rocket's propellant mix to burn more evenly, similar to the way that some cigarette paper is treated. "The key aspect is simplicity, we are teaching the microbes to be chemical catalysts," said Dr Frost. "At the moment we are using two bacteria, but the goal is to refine the process to just one step. Microbes allow you to deal in large volumes, which make the process commercially viable. "Compared with nitroglycerine, which is pretty unforgiving stuff, the BTTN is safer in all aspects of manufacture and use." (02/02/04)


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