An award-winning University of Queensland researcher hopes to use a chemical found in lemons and other citrus fruits to produce clean, renewable jet fuel.
Claudia Vickers, a senior researcher at the Systems and Synthetic Biology Group at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, is modifying baker’s yeast to produce a synthetic form of the natural chemical limonene.
‘Limonene is a volatile chemical that is best known for contributing to the smell of citrus fruits,’ Vickers explains.
Limonene extracted from citrus peel had been used successfully as a jet fuel component in demonstration flights in the past, but the process of extracting it on a large scale is highly impractical and not commercially viable. Vickers has pioneered the use of bacterial or yeast cells, the genes to produce limonene are genetically transferred into them from citrus plants, as industrial limonene incubators.
‘Producing it in yeast should provide a route to much greater yields of limonene which are easier to extract,’ she explains, ‘it might sound unlikely, but limonene one day could be a renewable, clean source of aviation fuel.’
Her research into synthetic limonene builds on earlier Queensland Government-funded research at the AIBN, which demonstrated that sucrose from sugarcane is one of the best biofuel feedstocks available in the state.
A United States Department of Agriculture report predicts ‘green chemicals’ produced using biomass will represent 22% of the chemical market by 2025.