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Barriers and opportunities in bio-based production of hydrocarbons

Abstract

Global climate change caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) has caused concerns regarding the continued reliance on fossil fuels as our primary energy source. Hydrocarbons produced from biomass using microbial fermentation processes can serve as high-quality liquid transportation fuels and may contribute to a reduction in GHG emissions. Here, we discuss the barriers and opportunities for bio-based production of hydrocarbons to be used as diesel and jet fuels and review recent advances in engineering microbes for production of these chemicals. There are two main challenges associated with establishing bio-based hydrocarbon production from cheap feedstocks; lowering the cost of developing efficient and robust microbial cell factories and establishing more efficient routes for biomass hydrolysis to sugars for fermentation. We discuss how to develop novel systems and synthetic biology tools that can enable faster and cheaper construction of microbial cell factories and thereby address the first challenge, as well as recent advances in biomass processing that will likely lead to overcoming the second challenge in the near future.

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Fig. 1: The biorefinery concept for biofuel production from sunlight and single-carbon compounds or biomass.
Fig. 2: Metabolic pathways for production of hydrocarbons in microorganisms.
Fig. 3: Construction of microbial cell factories for overproduction of terpene-based biofuels with relieved toxicity.
Fig. 4: Stoichiometric biosynthesis of farnesene from hexose, CO2 or methanol.
Fig. 5: Engineering cell factories for hydrocarbon biosynthesis from methanol.
Fig. 6: Development of a microbial cell factory for hydrocarbon production from raw materials.
Fig. 7: Room for improvement of TRY metrics.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge funding from National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 31700082) and DMTO research grant from Dalian Institute of Chemicals Physics, CAS (grant no. DICP DMTO201701) (to Y.J.Z.); the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Genomic Science program (Award number DE-SC0008744) and Horizon2020 via the CHASSY project (grant no. 720824) (to J.N.) and Åforsk Foundation (to E.J.K.).

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Zhou, Y.J., Kerkhoven, E.J. & Nielsen, J. Barriers and opportunities in bio-based production of hydrocarbons. Nat Energy 3, 925–935 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-018-0197-x

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