Bacterial biofuel more powerful than rocket fuel has been developed by scientists

POP-FAME: Scientists at the US Lawrence-Berkeley Lab have developed “POP-FAME” which is a fuel from a bacterium that packs more energy than even the rocket fuels in use today.

  • The research was published in the journal Joule.


  • POP-FAME is the acronym for “Polycyclopropanated Fatty Acid Methyl Ester”.
  • The molecular structure of POP-FAME is similar to Syntin.
  • Three-carbon ring (triangle with a carbon atom at three vertexes) is at its heart.
  • Each carbon atom of the ring makes bonds with two other carbon atoms and two other elements.
  • This structure is known as a cyclopropane.
  • Cyclopropane has potential energy in its bonds.
  • As per simulation data, POP-FAME fuel has energy density values of more than 50 megajoules per litre, against 32 MJ for petrol and 35 MJ for RP-1, which is a rocket fuel based on kerosene.
  • This increased energy density could help vehicles go farther on a single tank, or reduce the amount of fuel needed for rocket launches, saving more space and weight for cargo.
  • At the same time, producing the fuels from bacteria cuts right down on their environmental impact.

About Syntin Fuel:

  • A petroleum-based rocket fuel Syntin was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
  • In the 1970s, this fuel was utilized to successfully launch a number of Soyuz rockets.
  • However, despite its powerful performance, because of the expensive and uncomfortable manufacturing process, it was stopped.
  • It was created through a series of synthetic processes involving explosive and unstable intermediates and poisonous by-products.

Why is POP-FAME considered an ideal rocket fuel?

  • POP-FAME is said to have higher energy densities than Syntin, which means even a small quantity of the fuel can pack considerable energy, making it ideal rocket fuel.

Reduction of Greenhouse gas:

  • As these fuels would be produced from bacteria fed with plant matter which is made from carbon dioxide pulled from the atmosphere.
  • Burning them in engines will significantly reduce the amount of added greenhouse gas relative to any fuel generated from petroleum.

Work in Progress:

  • However, it is yet to be figured out as how to remove the two oxygen atoms in each molecule, which are dead weight.
  • These biofuels aren’t quite ready for use just yet.
  • The scientists haven’t yet produced enough fuel for field tests.
  • They need to find ways to make larger amounts so they can be tested in engines, by engineering the process in more efficient bacteria strains.
  • They also plan to investigate ways to make molecules of different lengths for different purposes.