Biochemists convert greenhouse gas to fuel

Nov 13, 2012 by Mary-Ann Muffoletto

(Phys.org)—What if you could take greenhouse gas and convert it to fuel for an energy-hungry world?

"That's currently a '' of science," says Utah State University biochemist Lance Seefeldt. "Imagine the far-reaching benefits of capturing environmentally damaging byproducts of and using them to make alternative fuels."

Yet that's exactly what Seefeldt and USU graduate student Zhiyong Yang accomplished using modern genetics. With colleagues Vivian Moure of Brazil's Federal University of Paraná and Dennis Dean of Virginia Tech, the scientists published findings in the Nov. 12, 2012, online early edition of .

Yang, lead author on the paper, cautions the team's findings are just a first step toward converting carbon dioxide, one of the most abundant emissions from fossil fuel use, into usable hydrocarbons.

"We've only been able to convert a tiny amount of carbon dioxide to methane and our process is very slow and inefficient," says Yang, a USU doctoral student who earned his first doctorate in at China's Nankai University. "But now we can begin to understand the chemistry. We can establish the mechanistic principles for this conversion, on which other chemists can build to design better, more efficient catalysts to accomplish this process."

Reducing or "breaking apart" carbon dioxide molecules is difficult, Seefeldt says, because carbon dioxide is very stable.

He and Yang have long studied , known as nitrogenases, used in nitrogen reduction and, in the course of their research, discovered a molybdenum nitrogenase capable of converting carbon monoxide into hydrocarbons. The team reported their findings in June 3, 2011 issue of .

"Using this knowledge, we took a step back and wondered if we could use a similar process to convert carbon dioxide," Seefeldt says.

The biochemists used genetic engineering to remodel the nitrogenase protein so it can now convert carbon dioxide into methane.

"An advantage of our process is it provides a path to learn how to turn carbon dioxide into useful chemicals and fuels," Yang says. "The continuing challenge will be figuring out how this process works and then transferring that knowledge to the construction of robust catalysts that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into something useful."

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User comments : 9

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grondilu
5 / 5 (3) Nov 13, 2012
Such a transformation requires energy. Does the bacteria take it from the sun or from sugars?
aennen
2 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2012
Ok, so how much fuel would we get for how long, then we would end up with less GH gasses than we should have....
nkalanaga
1 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2012
If we used that much, we could solve the problem by burning some fossil fuels. Considering the amount of fossil fuels we've already burned, it shouldn't be a problem for at least 50 years.

Also, fuels made from CO2 would produce CO2 when burned, so we wouldn't be taking the CO2 out of the air permanently. We would simply recycle it from air to fuel to air, leaving the total amount constant.
triplehelix
1.7 / 5 (3) Nov 13, 2012
Such a transformation requires energy. Does the bacteria take it from the sun or from sugars?


5/5 my friend

They seem to have mutated the nitrogen fixing gene of bacteria, meaning these bacteria will get energy from organic food sources, not the sun.

Already the problem becomes obvious, we drill oil, we burn it, we make CO2, we mutate bacteria to gobble it up and make more oil. Carbon is carbon is carbon. Oil burns to CO2, end of. More CO2 made, bacteria eats again, makes fuel, burns, etc etc. Congratulations, you have either made a perpetual chemical "engine" or the researchers are severely deluded. The amount of CO2 as a byproduct of making giant organic food sources for this bacteria will undoubtebly be more than what the bacteria consume, otherwise we have a very strange yield of over 100% and mr thermodynamics doesnt like that.
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (6) Nov 13, 2012
If energy was cheap, the cost of putting molecules together would be cheap enough to do. but we cant do that as that would make the US very wealthy... so, instead we crack em, and the greenies wail in idiocy... (if they meant it, they would all save to buy a ticket to russia and protest at the norilsk nickel plant!!!)
triplehelix
1 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2012
If energy was cheap, the cost of putting molecules together would be cheap enough to do. but we cant do that as that would make the US very wealthy... so, instead we crack em, and the greenies wail in idiocy... (if they meant it, they would all save to buy a ticket to russia and protest at the norilsk nickel plant!!!)


Cost can be removed from the equation. It is a simple scientific fact called the 1st law of thermodynamics. You cant just break and make bonds repeatedly without expending huge amounts of energy, and that energy comes from? Power plants, or food sources, using machinery to make.

Breaking a carbon bond in a power plant creates energy, this energy feeds into a wire, this wire gets to a lab 20 miles away shooting energy at a bunch of atoms to remake the fuel. Unless the transfer of energy is 100% efficient you cant just make and break fuel/CO2 at a whim without expending more energy than you make. Otherwise you have a perpetual chemical engine, breaking 1st law.
NoTennisNow
5 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2012
So, "no free lunch" always applies.

Tenstats
nkalanaga
not rated yet Nov 14, 2012
"No free lunch" always applies, true, but if the energy is from solar, wind, geothermal, or other renewable sources there will be no excess carbon released.
NoTennisNow
1 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2012
"No free lunch" always applies, true, but if the energy is from solar, wind, geothermal, or other renewable sources there will be no excess carbon released.


Yes, but the energy requirements must be evaluated. Are we talking about "mining the air"? The