New discovery may allow scientists to make fuel from CO2 in the atmosphere

Mar 26, 2013 by James Hataway
Michael Adams is a member of UGA's Bioenergy Systems Research Institute, Georgia Power professor of biotechnology and distinguished research professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

(Phys.org) —Excess carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere created by the widespread burning of fossil fuels is the major driving force of global climate change, and researchers the world over are looking for new ways to generate power that leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

Now, researchers at the University of Georgia have found a way to transform the trapped in the atmosphere into useful industrial products. Their discovery may soon lead to the creation of biofuels made directly from the carbon dioxide in the air that is responsible for trapping the sun's rays and raising .

"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 Michael Adams, member of UGA's Bioenergy Systems Research Institute, Georgia Power professor of biotechnology and Distinguished Research Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

During the process of photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into sugars that the plants use for energy, much like humans burn calories from food.

These sugars can be fermented into fuels like ethanol, but it has proven extraordinarily difficult to efficiently extract the sugars, which are locked away inside the plant's complex cell walls.

"What this discovery means is that we can remove plants as the middleman," said Adams, who is co-author of the study detailing their results published March 25 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. "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."

The process is made possible by a unique microorganism called Pyrococcus furiosus, or "rushing fireball," which thrives by feeding on carbohydrates in the super-heated ocean waters near geothermal vents. By manipulating the organism's genetic material, Adams and his colleagues created a kind of P. furiosus that is capable of feeding at much lower temperatures on carbon dioxide.

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.

"This is an important first step that has great promise as an efficient and cost-effective method of producing fuels," Adams said. "In the future we will refine the process and begin testing it on larger scales."

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Gammakozy
1.9 / 5 (16) Mar 26, 2013
And if the Pyrococcus furiosus get out of the lab, then what?
ScooterG
1.6 / 5 (19) Mar 26, 2013
Disruptive technology. Don't expect big-AGW to roll over too easily....

BwaaaHaHaHaHaHaHa!
DavidW
1.6 / 5 (15) Mar 26, 2013
And how to generate hydrogen? With burning another coal into carbon dioxide from water? The hydroreformation of coal will to the whole job faster...


? I didn't understand anything you wrote. Slow down enough to make sure you're making sense.

Gammakozy, I hear you. Here we are freaking out over the co2 with headlines in the news all the time concerning the end of it all over co2. Maybe 5 years from now some genetically modified organism will have sucked all co2 from the earth and drop us into a deep freeze or worse.

At least Michael Adams got a smile out of it. That's priceless.
Sean_W
1.8 / 5 (15) Mar 26, 2013
I don't know if it is practical or not but one of the major problems with wind, solar and similar energy sources is that they are too variable for the grid but if they were used to run CO2 extractors or produce hydrogen via catalyzed electrolysis it would not need to be as time sensitive as grid demand power. Coupling these power sources with this technique would require the fermenting process to be scaled down to where an installation could be located near a wind/solar producing region. It would probably be smarter to concentrate on producing chemicals rather than fuel in the beginning.
AWaB
1 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2013
Fire up the coal burners! Strip mining is making a comeback! LOL!
B Fast
not rated yet Mar 26, 2013
Please understand that this is an energy storage system, not an energy creation system. It is nice in that for every ton of CO2 generated by burning the resultant fuel, a ton of CO2 was removed from the atmosphere by this process. Further, liquid fuels, such as gasoline, have proven unmatched as a portable energy source.

This idea may be useful, but it is hardly free energy.
triplehelix
1 / 5 (11) Mar 26, 2013
free energy is impossible anyway unless you genuinely think perpetual motion/energy "engiines" are things of reality. Physics says otherwise.

Bacteria will get out....simple as that...
Steven_Anderson
1 / 5 (11) Mar 26, 2013
This is great. But no numbers what so ever. It is possible to make build an organism from scratch that can have multiple artificial amino acid dependencies so it can't survive without feed stock. However genetically modifying an existing bacteria means that it has a good chance of surviving outside the lab. As I pointed out in my article on plastic recycling: http://rawcell.co...-income/ Similar to what has happened with genetically modified crops showing up in the wild. This sort of thing should be carefully regulated to make sure that a runaway problem isn't possible. I am still very interested in seeing some numbers though. My article on carbon capture assumed a price of $100/ton figure which we drew from the Carbon Engineering, a Calgary, Aberta firm founded in 2009 with money from Bill Gates for 2.602 Trillion cost to capture 100% of one years worth of world CO2 production. http://rawcell.co...capture/
tekram
not rated yet Mar 26, 2013
http://www.pnas.o...bstract?
Don't need hydrogen but then it won't be carbon neutral. 3-Hydroxypropionic acid production can be done by whole cells using maltose or pyruvate as the source of acetyl-CoA.
tore_rogne
not rated yet Mar 27, 2013
Great, but what does Ned Flanders have to do with this?
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2013
And if the Pyrococcus furiosus get out of the lab, then what?

Some critter or other finds it delectable.
JRi
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2013
Fuel is not the first thing that comes to my mind if someone found a way to prepare 3-hydroxypropionic acid. The fine chemicals derived from it are far more valuable per weight than gasoline.

Every scientist just need to mention "biofuel" and "climate change" to get funding nowadays.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (10) Mar 27, 2013
perpetual motion/energy "engiines" are things of reality. Physics says otherwise.


Michio Kaku classified them as "Type 4 impossibilities," but he points out that is based on the "known" laws of physics; or you might say what physicists THINK they know. If new discoveries are made, they may in fact be possible. After all, what are Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

Bacteria will get out....simple as that...


Yes.

Besides, you'd need to grow unimaginable amounts of the stuff to produce enough energy. We're talking about an amount more than all world agriculture combined.

A gallon of gasoline or diesel contains 65 times as much energy as a 2000 calorie diet.
PJS
not rated yet Mar 27, 2013
A gallon of gasoline or diesel contains 65 times as much energy as a 2000 calorie diet.


I suggest you start eating 1/65th of a gallon of gasoline daily
Kevonicles
not rated yet Mar 27, 2013
Great, but what does Ned Flanders have to do with this?

Its not Ned Flanders. Its obviously Walter from Breaking Bad. He's gone straight.

And if the Pyrococcus furiosus get out of the lab, then what?

Pyrococcus furiosus can only survive at high temperatures. Even these guys which have been genetically modified to survive cooler temperatures than the natural species. So if they get out they will die.

The only real problem with this as a viable source of renewable fuel is that it would take a whole lot of energy to generate the hydrogen needed for the bacteria to do their thing.
andrew_planet
4.3 / 5 (3) Mar 28, 2013
A number of micro organisms transform what they feed on into either hydrogen or carbon dioxide. Some bacteria algae produce hydrogen and yeast produces carbon dioxide. I have been wondering for some time now how we could make use of the carbon dioxide produced by yeast, including the resultant heat and now know of Pyrococcus furiosus. I was interested in applying yeast to human waste products be they plant or animal based, as in what goes into a compost heap, or sewage systems. There is an evident ample diversity of organisms to produce the nourishment they all need from each other to eventually create fuel from carbon dioxide. That could be achieved by stacking the organisms and their food sources in subsequent steps of production so as to finally obtain the fuel without any added energy expenditure other than that effected by the micro organisms themselves.
Shootist
1 / 5 (13) Mar 30, 2013
A gallon of gasoline or diesel contains 65 times as much energy as a 2000 calorie diet.


I suggest you start eating 1/65th of a gallon of gasoline daily


Hydrocarbons are the fuel of the NOW, and near term (50 years) future.

Live with it.

"The polar bears will be fine." - Freeman Dyson
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (9) Mar 31, 2013
A gallon of gasoline or diesel contains 65 times as much energy as a 2000 calorie diet.


I suggest you start eating 1/65th of a gallon of gasoline daily


I was expressing how much more land you need to fuel a car for a few miles of driving as compared to feeding an adult human being for a day.
_traw_at
3 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2013
...I have been wondering for some time now how we could make use of the carbon dioxide produced by yeast, including the resultant heat and now know of Pyrococcus furiosus. ...


Mmm. Farm Algae. Pump the CO2 into tall, clear cylinders full of sea water and blue-green algae, like the Spanish are now doing. The algae feed off the CO2 and sunlight and grow. Since these creatures contain a certain amount of fats, they can be processed to produce biofuel. The rest can be composted and used as a soil amendment, animal feed, or w.h.y. However, they do have to have salts cleaned off them, I think... I haven't seen that possibility (if it is a problem...) discussed anywhere.

There are now algae ponds in the US Southwest set up to produce biofuels from this source, so it must be relatively cost-effective already. The catch is that one needs to replenish the water supply constantly, since it will evapourate. Better to set up this close to the ocean. Or ~in~ the ocean, In floating tankl
Duude
1.1 / 5 (12) Apr 01, 2013
This idea isn't even half-baked yet. Slow news day?
FastEddy
1 / 5 (12) Apr 01, 2013
Disruptive technology. Don't expect big-AGW to roll over too easily....


Don't expect the Sun to roll over that easy, either.

The evidence is that The Sun has had significantly more influence on Earth weather than any man-made global warming: http://www.youtub...bservers et al ...
FastEddy
1 / 5 (12) Apr 01, 2013
A gallon of gasoline or diesel contains 65 times as much energy as a 2000 calorie diet.


I suggest you start eating 1/65th of a gallon of gasoline daily


Hydrocarbons are the fuel of the NOW, and near term (50 years) future. Live with it. "The polar bears will be fine." - Freeman Dyson


Gee, wondering where hydrocarbons come from ... And ideas?
FastEddy
1 / 5 (11) Apr 01, 2013
... Gammakozy, I hear you. Here we are freaking out over the co2 with headlines in the news all the time concerning the end of it all over co2. Maybe 5 years from now some genetically modified organism will have sucked all co2 from the earth and drop us into a deep freeze or worse. ...


... could happen, but that's a long shot. More likely that the next ice age will freeze out all of the CO2 in the air so the Global Worms can wander around picking it up with a shovel.
FastEddy
1 / 5 (12) Apr 01, 2013
I don't know if it is practical or not but one of the major problems with wind, solar and similar energy sources is that they are too variable for the grid but if they were used to run CO2 extractors or produce hydrogen via catalyzed electrolysis it would not need to be as time sensitive as grid demand power. Coupling these power sources with this technique would require the fermenting process to be scaled down to where an installation could be located near a wind/solar producing region. It would probably be smarter to concentrate on producing chemicals rather than fuel in the beginning.


And there goes ALL of our tax money, right down that g'ment supervised and funded crapper.
bakamayi
not rated yet Apr 04, 2013
And if the Pyrococcus furiosus get out of the lab, then what?

Some critter or other finds it delectable.

Like all the non-native plants and animals introduced to new ecosystems? There's not always something there to find a new organism tasty, so we can't just hope for it.