Scientists Create an Alternative Energy Biofuel from CO2 and Bacteria

March 31, 2011

There are plus sides to being around too much  Carbon Dioxide (CO2), according to members of the research and development team at the University of Minnesota.

The research teams have created an alternative fuel that uses two types of bacteria to create hydrocarbons from sunlight and CO2. Those hydrocarbons can be made into renewable petroleum.

The process starts with Synechococcus, a photosynthetic bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight, then converting the CO2 to sugars. According to Gizmag, the converted 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 fatty acids into ketones-a type of organic compound and then 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,” says Frias’ advisor, Prof. Lawrence Wackett, Ph.D., “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.”

This research project is part of The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a section of the Department of Energy. Wackett has written about the potential for such a biofuel: “The University of Minnesota seeks to develop hydrocarbon biofuels from a renewable resource, namely the Shewanella bacteria.

Hydrocarbon fuels have significant advantages over alternative fuels like ethanol. For example, hydrocarbon fuels, unlike ethanol, could make use of the United States’ existing refining and distribution infrastructure.

The University of Minnesota has already proven that naturally occurring Shewanella bacteria produce hydrocarbons and are tolerant to the same. This project aims to engineer Shewanella bacteria to produce higher levels of hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide, thus removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“This proposed research will also explore innovative bio-production methodologies to allow continuous harvesting of hydrocarbons, which would generate significant cost savings compared to traditional batch fermentation,” says the researchers.

The hydrocarbon feedstock created by this innovative will be chemically processed using methods from petroleum refining. If the research becomes successful, this university science project could increase alternative energy source including transportation fuels which in turn reduce our nation’s dependence upon foreign sources of fossil fuels.

Currently, the university is in the process of filing patents on the process.

Source: Gizmag



Glenn Meyers

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.