USU scientists find new way to convert carbon dioxide to fuel

LOGAN – A team of Utah State University researchers recently demonstrated the ability to take harmful carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel and convert it into usable fuel using a single enzyme.

Professor Lance Seefeldt and his team joined with researchers at the University of Washington and Virginia Tech to carry out the study. Their work was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Energy Frontier Research Center program.

One of the researchers, biochemist Derek Harris, said a lot of effort has recently been put into researching carbon sequestration – the process of long-term carbon dioxide storage – to reduce greenhouse gasses. This process would provide a sort-of recycling option rather than a storage one.

Harris said large-scale conversions aren’t close to being industry ready, but the research proves it is possible.

“If you are really able to optimize this system and do it on a larger scale, you can imagine something where you can take the CO2 and then feasibly not only recycle it, but come out the other side with some sort of usable fuel,” he said.

The scientists took an enzyme found in the photosynthetic bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris that could break down nitrogen gas and convert it into ammonia. After genetically modifying the enzyme they observed that it was capable of the carbon dioxide conversion as well, but they weren’t sure whether the process would be the same if the enzymes were still attached to the cell.

After running more tests, they discovered it was.

“That is really what the paper shows,” Harris said. “We were able to show that not only would it do the chemistry, but in the paper you can see that we showed we could also kind of control it by giving it more or less energy under different circumstances. We could kind of play with how much it would or wouldn’t make.”

The findings were published in the August 22, 2016 of the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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