Washington: Researchers have found a way to transform the carbon dioxide (CO2) trapped in the atmosphere into useful industrial products.
The discovery may soon lead to the development of biofuels made directly from the CO2 in the air - responsible for global warming.
"Basically, what we have done is create a microorganism that does with carbon dioxide exactly what plants do-absorb it and generate something useful," Michael Adams, member of UGA`s Bioenergy Systems Research Institute, Georgia Power professor of biotechnology and Distinguished Research Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Science, said.
"What this discovery means is that we can remove plants as the middleman," said Adams, co-author of the study.
"We can take carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into useful products like fuels and chemicals without having to go through the inefficient process of growing plants and extracting sugars from biomass," he said.
The process is made possible by a unique microorganism called Pyrococcus furiosus, or "rushing fireball," which thrives by feeding on carbohydrates in the super-heated ocean waters near geothermal vents.
By manipulating its genetic material, Adams and his team created a kind of P. furiosus, capable of feeding at much lower temperatures on CO2.
The research team then used hydrogen gas to create a chemical reaction in the microorganism that incorporates CO2 into 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical used to make acrylics and other products.
With other genetic manipulations of this new strain of P. furiosus, Adams and his colleagues could create a version that generates a host of other useful industrial products, including fuel, from CO2.
When the fuel created through the P. furiosus process is burned, it releases the same amount of CO2 used to create it, effectively making it carbon neutral, and a cleaner alternative to gasoline, coal and oil.
The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.