Is Fuel From Carbon Dioxide Too Good to Be True?

Researchers are hoping to use hydrogen gas to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into liquid fuel.

Pyrococcus furiosus
The microorganism Pyrococcus furiosus is being genetically engineered to generate fuels from hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

It’s almost as impressive as pulling a rabbit out of a hat—except this presto chango trick is for real and has the potential to help combat the effects of global warming.

Researchers at the University of Georgia have come up with a way to transform carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere into useful industrial products. Science Daily reports that the discovery could lead to the creation of biofuels made directly from the carbon dioxide.

The work was supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Electrofuels program of the Department of Energy. “The goal of the project is to use hydrogen gas to directly convert carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel,” Professor Michael Adams of UGA’s Bioenergy Systems Research Institute told TakePart.

Adams, whose work was part of a collaborative project with the research group of Professor Bob Kelly at North Carolina State University, explains that the technology is similar to the process of photosynthesis in plants, but focuses on a microorganism called Pyrococcus furiosus.

Pyrococcus grows optimally in boiling water (100°C) but does not use carbon dioxide,” says Adams. “We genetically engineered it to use carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas but to do so very efficiently at much lower temperatures (near 70°C) where the organism itself has little activity—it is in a cold shock—and should not interfere with the process.”

“In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences we demonstrated proof of principle and showed that Pyroccocus would use hydrogen gas and incorporate carbon dioxide into an important industrial chemical used to make plastics and other materials. We are now genetically engineering Pyrococcus to generate fuels solely from hydrogen and carbon dioxide.”

The fuel created by the bacteria releases the same amount of carbon dioxide used to create it, essentially rendering it carbon neutral.

Adams and his team are hoping to refine the process and begin testing it on larger scales. “All of this work is on the laboratory scale,” he says. “We are now optimizing the ability of genetically engineered Pyrococcus to use hydrogen and carbon dioxide for fuel production and will then begin to go to larger scales for demonstration purposes.”

If they’re successful, they will have come up with what’s known as a formula for turning a negative into a positive.

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com

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