Washington: Scientists are a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and dioxide.
University of Minnesota graduate student Janice Frias made the critical step by figuring out how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by the bacteria into ketones, which can be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels.
Aditya Bhan and Lanny Schmidt, chemical engineering professors in the College of Science and Engineering, 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.
Larry Wackett, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Biochemistry is the principal investigator for the study.
They are the only group using a photosynthetic bacterium and a hydrocarbon-producing bacterium together to make hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide.
The team is using Synechococcus, a bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight and converts CO2 to sugars.
Next, they feed the sugars to Shewanella, a bacterium that produces hydrocarbons. This turns CO2, a greenhouse gas produced by combustion of fossil fuel petroleum, into hydrocarbons.
The research has been published in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.