News / Science & Technology

Scientists Coax Microbe to Produce Biofuel from CO2

Pyrococcus furiosus (Henry Aldrich, ifas.ufl.edu)Pyrococcus furiosus (Henry Aldrich, ifas.ufl.edu)
x
Pyrococcus furiosus (Henry Aldrich, ifas.ufl.edu)
Pyrococcus furiosus (Henry Aldrich, ifas.ufl.edu)
Jessica Berman
Scientists say they have found a way to convert carbon dioxide or CO2 - a greenhouse gas that’s a primary driver of global warming - directly into a biofuel that might someday provide an alternative to climate-changing fossil fuels. Researchers say the conversion relies on an unusual microbe.

The microorganism - a bacterium named Pyrococcus furiosus or “rushing fireball” - was discovered in 1986 on the Mediterranean Sea floor off southern Italy, feeding on carbohydrates in the super-heated, acidic ocean waters surrounding undersea volcanic vents.  The find surprised scientists because at the time, no one knew that living organisms could thrive in the dark,100-plus-degree Celsius waters.

Researcher Michael Adams and colleagues at the University of Georgia in Athens, along with scientists at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, were intrigued by the bacterium's chemical processing ability.  They genetically modified it so the microbe could feed directly on carbon dioxide gas, and do so at much lower temperatures than its original sea-floor habitat.

Next, researchers added hydrogen gas as an energy source and made further genetic modifications to the microbe that allowed it to generate butanol, a biofuel that burns much like a conventional fossil fuel.
 
Adams says biofuel production from the marine microbes eliminates the step of extracting such fuel from plants, such as corn and sugar cane. These plants use sunlight to produce sugars, which must then be fermented into ethanol.
   
“When we say we’re sort of cutting out the middle man, here we’re converting CO2 or carbon dioxide directly into biofuel," said Adams. "But you still need a source of energy.  As I said the plant uses light.  Our source of energy is hydrogen gas.”

The main source of hydrogen is natural gas, another fossil fuel. But the technology, according to Adams, would be carbon neutral in terms of its environmental impact.

“We would take CO2 from the atmosphere, make biofuel which would then be used and converted back to CO2," he said. "But again the caveat is that we are using hydrogen as an energy source and that energy source has to come from somewhere. And as I say at this point in time, the best source of hydrogen would be natural gas.”

Adams believes the microbe-generated butanol has the potential to replace carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels such as oil, gasoline and coal.

He envisions harvesting vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and processing it along with hydrogen in large reactor systems to produce enough butanol for large-scale energy use.

Funding for the research was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.  An article describing the microbial conversion of carbon dioxide into biofuel is published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid