December 11, 2009
Cyanobacterium Produces Liquid Fuel From Sun Power

But will it scale at low cost?

Global climate change has prompted efforts to drastically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels.

In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

The research appears in the Dec. 9 print edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology and is available online.

This new method has two advantages for the long-term, global-scale goal of achieving a cleaner and greener energy economy, the researchers say. First, it recycles carbon dioxide, reducing greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Second, it uses solar energy to convert the carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel that can be used in the existing energy infrastructure, including in most automobiles.

If this can ever be done cheaply it would provide a much bigger advantage: to ease our adjustment to Peak Oil. If some scientists and engineers can find a way to use sun power to drive a liquid fuel economy then we could maintain our current level of mobility post-peak as world oil production goes into long term decline.

Using the cyanobacterium Synechoccus elongatus, researchers first genetically increased the quantity of the carbon dioxide–fixing enzyme RuBisCO. Then they spliced genes from other microorganisms to engineer a strain that intakes carbon dioxide and sunlight and produces isobutyraldehyde gas.

The isobutyraldehyde gets separated easily in gaseous form and they then chemically convert isobutyraldehyde to isobutanol.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 December 11 08:36 PM  Energy Biomass

LarryD said at December 12, 2009 9:35 PM:

Serious scaling issues with alge biofuels.

1. Solar insolation is always a limiting factor, to increase the energy input, you have to increase the collection area. Which brings up the issue of location, and not all locations receive the same insolation.

2. The efficiency of conversion is low, photosysthis is inferior to even the commercially available PVs, this means the collection area has to be increase even more. And the alge needs some of the energy for itself, the the efficiency isn't even as high as the efficiency of photosynthsis.

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