U. MINNESOTA (US) — Scientists are a step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight, and carbon dioxide.
Janice Frias, who earned her doctorate at the University of Minnesota discovered how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by the bacteria into ketones, which can then be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels.
The research is published in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Chemical engineers Aditya Bhan and Lanny Schmidt are turning the ketones into diesel fuel using catalytic technology they have developed. The ability to produce ketones opens the door to making petroleum-like hydrocarbon fuels using only bacteria, sunlight, and carbon dioxide.
“There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels,” says Larry Wackett, professor of biochemistry. “CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment. 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.”
Researchers are using synechococcus, a bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight and converts CO2 to sugars that are then fed to shewanella, a bacterium that produces hydrocarbons that then turns CO2, a greenhouse gas produced by combustion of fossil fuel petroleum, into hydrocarbons.
Hydrocarbons (made from carbon and hydrogen) are the main component of fossil fuels. It took hundreds of millions of years of heat and compression to produce fossil fuels, which experts expect to be largely depleted within 50 years.
The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-energy program.
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