Researchers with the U.S Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute have identified a new potential biofuel made by engineering microbes.

The JBEI research team engineered strains of two microbes, a bacteria and a yeast, to produce a precursor to bisabolane, a chemical similar to those used in fragrances. Preliminary tests by the team showed that bisabolane's properties make it a promising biosynthetic alternative to Number 2 diesel fuel.

"We desperately need drop-in, renewable biofuels that can directly replace petroleum-derived fuels," said Keasling, CEO of JBEI, who co-authored the paper in Nature Communications.

It would be quite some time before such a fuel came to market, but the discovery is seen as a step in the right direction, the institute said.

JBEI is one of three Bioenergy Research Centers established by the DOE's Office of Science in 2007. Researchers at JBEI are pursuing the fundamental science needed to make production of advanced biofuels cost-effective on a national scale.