In China, researchers at the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocesses Technology (QIBEBT) in China have made headway toward more sustainable and economic fuel production by developing a biochemical approach to allow more control over the conversion of natural gas into potable liquid fuel. Methane and propane, another component of natural gas, are organic molecules called alkanes. Consisting solely of carbon and hydrogen atoms, alkanes need to be significantly processed before they can be used in fuel. The process includes introducing oxygen and hydrogen, called hydroxyl groups, into the alkane. The atoms rearrange themselves, producing an alcohol that can be used as fuel, such as ethanol.
The process is indirect due to how selective alkanes are when reacting to the hydroxyl catalysts. Researchers have worked on engineering an enzyme that would uniformly speed along the small alkanes reaction to hydroxyl groups needed to produce fuel.