A 'Rushing Fireball': Microorganism Could Turn Carbon Dioxide To Biofuel

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 27, 2013 12:01 PM EDT

Researchers at the University of Georgia have created a microorganism capable of absorbing excess carbon dioxide and potentially aiding the development of biofuels made directly from the harmful gas.

The microorganism is called Pyrococcus furiosus, or "rushing fireball." The rushing fireball absorbs carbohydrates in super-heated parts of the ocean that are in close proximity to geothermal vents. In conducting its study, the team of researchers created a variation of the microorganism that is able to absorb carbon dioxide at much lower temperatures.

The next step in the process was generating a chemical reaction in Pyrococcus furiosus using hydrogen. The reaction turns carbon dioxide into 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a frequently used industrial chemical. The scientists theorize that further research could lead to a version of the microorganism that can take carbon dioxide and turn it into biofuel.

"Basically, what we have done is create a microorganism that does with carbon dioxide exactly what plants do — absorb it and generate something useful," says study co-author Michael Adams, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Georgia's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

"What this discovery means is that we can remove plants as the middleman," Adams says. "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."

And perhaps best of all, the process is carbon neutral, since the Pyrococcus furiosus absorbs as much carbon dioxide as it expels.

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

The study is published in the March 25 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

On Tuesday we learned about another clean energy breakthrough with a new study on bacteria being used for bio-batteries. You can check it out here.

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