Science is getting back to nature. Two separate press releases that crossed my desk made me want to go hug a tree. The first one touts new water filtration technologies via tree branches. The other notes that researchers have engineered a bacterium to synthesize pinene, a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels.
An MIT engineer, a high school science teacher and high school student worked together to design a simple filter by peeling the bark off a small section of white pine, then inserting and securing it within plastic tubing.
“There is a community of people who do look at sap flow and drying in plants because it’s obviously important, but that community doesn’t intersect with the water purification community,” said Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “They are thinking about how plants work and not how we can use plants to accomplish something else.”
Brilliant! Read more about this simple concept.
Now let's move on to the rocket fuel, shall we?
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have engineered a bacterium to synthesize pinene, a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10, in missiles and other aerospace applications, according to Georgia Tech press release.
By inserting enzymes from trees into the bacterium, Georgia Tech graduate student Stephen Sarria, boosted pinene production six-fold over earlier bioengineering efforts. Though a more dramatic improvement will be needed before pinene dimers can compete with petroleum-based JP-10, the scientists believe they have identified the major obstacles that must be overcome to reach that goal.
Learn more about the tree-to-rocket-fuel initiative here.
It's like science imitating art via the Back To The Future movies.
Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing's Senior Digital Editor, tree hugger, Back To The Future fan and soon-to-be pine-tree-filtration aficionado. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.