Shell and Dr John Love have made E.coli bacteria produce fuel on demand.

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Solutions to future global fuel challenges are being worked on by the University in partnership with Shell – an international group of energy and petrochemicals companies.

The partnership began when Dr John Love, of the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, attended a meeting and struck up a chance conversation with a Shell director.

He revealed: “I was explaining new developments in high throughput sequencing to one of the directors of Shell. He asked me to give a talk to their research wing, which I did, and the working relationship naturally progressed from there.”

John explained: “High throughput sequencing is a method of determining nucleotide order within a DNA molecule."

He added: “After giving a talk at Shell work began to see if the technology could be applied to the problem of biofuels.”

“It was a very organic process, which was great. It enabled us to build up a respect for each others’ fields and trust in each other.”

John has worked on many projects with Shell including a high profile project to develop way of making bacteria produce fuel on demand.

The bacteria produce oil identical to diesel, meaning it can directly replace existing petroleum fuels and help reduce carbon emissions. This is all achievable without the need to replace our existing infrastructure.

John said Shell's expertise was vital to the project's success. He explained: “Synthetic biology is such a multidisciplinary subject and as an academic, you have to be willing to be ignorant and recognise you’re not always the expert.”

John was also seconded to Shell for a period, giving him new insight into industrial requirements.

He explained: “Actually working at Shell Research Centre was a brilliant experience. It taught me a lot about the fuels we require, so it stops you running down blind alleys. It shows you the impediments to commercialisation, it keeps your focus sharp.”

He added: “On the other side, Shell understands the drivers in academic research – the need for openness, publications and students. Collaborative partnerships are definitely a two-way interaction.”

The expertise of University academics adds value to collaborative projects, as do their efforts to enhance technology by working with industry.

The complementary expertise of the two organisations allows this particular collaboration to operate at the interface of theoretical and applied research.

The partnership between John and Shell continues to strengthen and they are now looking to bring their previous findings to a pre-industrialisation phase.