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CO2 In Air Can Be Transformed Into Fuel, University of Georgia Study Says

Mar 26, 2013 04:39 PM EDT
Michael Adams and his team at University of Georgia developed a way to create fuel out of the carbon dioxide that's in the air.
(Photo : University of Georgia )

Scientists at the University of Georgia have said they have found a way to transform carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere into useful industrial products such as fuels and chemicals.

The discovery may be the forerunner to the creation of biofuels made directly from carbon dioxide in the air.

"Basically, what we have done is create a microorganism that does with carbon dioxide exactly what plants do-absorb it and generate something useful," said Michael Adams, a member of the university's Bioenergy Systems Research Institute.

"What this discovery means is that we can remove plants as the middleman," said Adams, in a press statement. "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."

Photosynthesizing plants use sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into sugars that the plants use for energy. The sugars can be fermented into fuels like ethanol, but extracting the sugars, which are locked away in plant walls, is difficult. The new discovery will make it simpler to gain access to the sugars.

The process is made possible by an organism called Pyrococcus furiosus, or "rushing fireball," which thrives by feeding on carbohydrates in superheated waters near geothermal vents. Adams and his team used the organism's genetic material to develop a similar organism that is capable of feeding at much lower temperatures.

Adams said the organism can be further manipulated to produce a variety of different products.

"This is an important first step that has great promise as an efficient and cost-effective method of producing fuels," Adams said. "In the future we will refine the process and begin testing it on larger scales."

The paper detailing Adams and his team's findings is published in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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