Environment

Scientists use bacteria to create fuel from sunlight and CO2

Scientists use bacteria to cre...
Shewanella bacteria, which produces ketones that are processed into fuel(Image from 'Cultivating Bacteria's Taste for Toxic Waste')
Shewanella bacteria, which produces ketones that are processed into fuel
(Image from 'Cultivating Bacteria's Taste for Toxic Waste')
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Shewanella bacteria, which produces ketones that are processed into fuel(Image from 'Cultivating Bacteria's Taste for Toxic Waste')
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Shewanella bacteria, which produces ketones that are processed into fuel
(Image from 'Cultivating Bacteria's Taste for Toxic Waste')

Researchers from the University of Minnesota have announced a breakthrough in the quest to create a viable fuel alternative using greenhouse gases. The process uses two types of bacteria to create hydrocarbons from sunlight and carbon dioxide. Those hydrocarbons can in turn be made into fuel, which the scientists are calling "renewable petroleum."

The process starts with Synechococcus, a photosynthetic bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight, then converts that CO2 to sugars. Those sugars are then passed on to another bacterium, Shewanella, which consumes them and produces fatty acids. University of Minnesota biochemistry graduate student Janice Frias discovered how to use a protein to transform those acids into ketones, a type of organic compound. Her colleagues in the university's College of Science and Engineering have developed catalytic technology that allows them to convert those ketones into diesel fuel.

"CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment," said Frias' advisor, Prof. Larry Wackett. "It's also free. And we can use the same infrastructure to process and transport this new hydrocarbon fuel that we use for fossil fuels."

The university is in the process of filing patents on the process.

The research is being published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

40 comments
Darren_
Very promising article. I guess burning the fuel will produce CO2 again? But at least the net environmental effect is zero. The good thing about comparatively low-tech processes like this is, they may allow production to be decentralised.. saving a lot of energy on shipping. I wonder how scaleable this process is for commercial production?
greytoma
Aren\'t you just putting back (burning diesel) what you took out? Plus generating a bit more in the process?
Paul van Dinther
If they care so much about the environment? Why patent it?
Alien
This sounds great! So how far is the technology from commercial viability? Gizmag, we love the stuff you come up with but quite often it\'s short on such details and more follow ups also might help.
Knowledge Thirsty
Preliminary conversion rates would be nice...
PeetEngineer
This statement from a so-called professor seems to illustrate a lack of understanding of the carbon cycle; \"CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment,\" said Frias\' advisor, Prof. Larry Wackett. \"It\'s also free. And we can use the same infrastructure to process and transport this new hydrocarbon fuel that we use for fossil fuels.\" I wonder if he has a design for a perpetual motion machine too.
Mark G - Cinci, OH
Patent? Gee...one is then able to govern/manage the use of the technology and who profits from it or not. And profit\'s not a 4 letter word...even Higher Education and research need funding. Image what else they might be able to develop if they can afford to do so. :-)
Facebook User
If you care so much about the environment Dinther, why don\'t you make a competing technology for nothing? Sheesh, they\'ve got to pay the bills, the staff, and they\'ve got to fund the next step up, and frankly, when you make something that works that helps everyone, you deserve a reward. Why don\'t you move to Cuba, that great bastion of scientific progress? Oh that\'s right, Castro recently said that communism doesn\'t work.
Conny Söre
I wonder if the process requires fossile fuel. I get a feeling that all those conversion steps need a bit more than time and maybe some sunshine. But if I\'m wrong it sounds wonderful. :-)
4Freedom
@ Paul: Hopefully just to recoup the R&D expenses.