Asking 'what would nature do?' leads to a way to break down a greenhouse gas

Mar 08, 2010

A recent discovery in understanding how to chemically break down the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into a useful form opens the doors for scientists to wonder what organism is out there - or could be created - to accomplish the task.

University of Michigan biological chemist Steve Ragsdale, along with research assistant Elizabeth Pierce and scientists led by Fraser Armstrong from the University of Oxford in the U.K., have figured out a way to efficiently turn into carbon monoxide using visible light, like sunlight.

The results are reported in the recent online edition of the .

Not only is it a demonstration that an abundant compound can be converted into a commercially useful compound with considerably less energy input than current methods, it also is a method not so different from what organisms regularly do.

"This is a first step in showing it's possible, and imagine doing something similar," Ragsdale said. "I don't know of any organism that uses light energy to activate carbon dioxide and reduce it to carbon monoxide, but I can imagine either finding an organism that can do it, or genetically engineering one to channel light energy to coax it to do that."

In this collaboration between Ann Arbor and Oxford, Ragsdale's laboratory at the U-M Medical School does the and microbiology experiments and Armstrong's lab performs the physical- and photochemical applications.

Ragsdale and his associates succeeded in using an enzyme-modified titanium oxide to get carbon dioxide's excited and willing to jump to the enzyme, which then catalyzes the reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. A photosensitizer that binds to the titanium allows the use of visible light for the process. The enzyme is more robust than other catalysts, willing to facilitate the conversion again and again. The trick: It can't come near oxygen.

"By using this enzyme, you put it into a solution that contains titanium dioxide in the presence of a photosensitizer," he said. "We looked for a way that seems like nature's way of doing it, which is more efficient." Armstrong notes that "essentially it shows what is possible were we to be able to mass-produce a with such properties".

The direct product - carbon monoxide - is a desirable chemical that can be used in other processes to produce electricity or hydrogen. Carbon monoxide also has significant fuel value and readily can be converted by known catalysts into hydrocarbons or into methanol for use as a liquid fuel. Although serves as a source of energy and biomass for microbes, it is toxic for animals and this risk needs to be managed when it is generated or used in chemical reactions.

Explore further: Neutral self-assembling peptide hydrogel

Related Stories

Sunlight turns carbon dioxide to methane

Mar 05, 2009

Dual catalysts may be the key to efficiently turning carbon dioxide and water vapor into methane and other hydrocarbons using titania nanotubes and solar power, according to Penn State researchers.

Automobile fuel cells from sunflower oil

Aug 26, 2004

Researchers in England have found a promising method for producing hydrogen from sunflower oil, a development that could lead to cleaner and more efficient hydrogen production for powering automobile fuel cells as well as home ...

Machine Converts CO2 into Gasoline, Diesel, and Jet Fuel

Nov 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have built a machine that uses the sun's energy to convert carbon dioxide waste from power plants into transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel, ...

Recommended for you

Neutral self-assembling peptide hydrogel

28 minutes ago

Self-assembling peptides are characterized by a stable β-sheet structure and are known to undergo self-assembly into nanofibers that could further form a hydrogel. Self-assembling peptide hydrogels have ...

Scientists make droplets move on their own

20 hours ago

Droplets are simple spheres of fluid, not normally considered capable of doing anything on their own. But now researchers have made droplets of alcohol move through water. In the future, such moving droplets may deliver medicines, ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nemo
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2010
Not genes you really want to have released into the biosphere..
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2010
@Nemo,

If such a metabolic pathway were biologically viable, it would've long since evolved on its own (particularly back in the Archaean days, before emergence of photosynthesis, when Earth's atmosphere was CO2-rich.)
sysop
Mar 09, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) Mar 09, 2010
...it is called PHOTOSYNTHESIS, we ALL knew this in 3rd grade, yet these arrogant fools talk down to you as if you are bigger fools than they are...
You oughtn't be talking, sysop. You were opining on the "free will" thread, while being utterly clueless about neurobiology. Now you're opining on climate and greenhouse gases, while being utterly clueless about the carbon cycle.

A bigger fool is hard to find on this site...