Researchers have taken a step closer to using atmospheric carbon dioxide as a biofuel, potentially helping mitigate climate change while at the same time meeting rising energy demand, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists at the University of Georgia and the North Carolina State University are working with the bacteria Pyrococcus furiosus to convert CO2 into directly biofuels.
“Basically, what we have done is create a microorganism that does with carbon dioxide exactly what plants do-absorb it and generate something useful,” said study co-author Michael Adams of the the University of Georgia. “What this discovery means is that we can remove plants as the middleman. We can take carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into useful products like fuels and chemicals without having to go through the inefficient process of growing plants and extracting sugars from biomass.”
Pyrococcus furiosus. Image from the Missouri University of Science and Technology
Pyrococcus furiosus is a microorganism that lives in super-heated ocean waters near geothermal vents. Adams and colleagues manipulated the bacteria’s genome so it feeds on CO2 at much lower temperatures.
A press release from the University of Georgia explains the next steps of the process for potentially using the extremophile bacteria to convert the potent greenhouse gas into fuel.
The research team then used hydrogen gas to create a chemical reaction in the microorganism that incorporates carbon dioxide into 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical used to make acrylics and many other products.
With other genetic manipulations of this new strain of P. furiosus, Adams and his colleagues could create a version that generates a host of other useful industrial products, including fuel, from carbon dioxide.
When the fuel created through the P. furiosus process is burned, it releases the same amount of carbon dioxide used to create it, effectively making it carbon neutral, and a much cleaner alternative to gasoline, coal and oil.
Adams called the development “an important first step that has great promise as an efficient and cost-effective method of producing fuels.”
“In the future we will refine the process and begin testing it on larger scales.”
The study did not evaluate the economic viability of the approach.
CITATION: Matthew W. Keller et al (2013). Exploiting microbial hyperthermophilicity to produce an industrial chemical, using hydrogen and carbon dioxide. PNAS Online Early Edition for the week of March 25, 2013-March 29, 2013.