Scientists use bacteria to create fuel from sunlight and CO2
By Ben Coxworth
March 24, 2011
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.