Researchers at the University of Georgia say that they have found a way to take the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to make useful industrial products, potentially including liquid fuels.
The process uses a unique microorganism called a "rushing fireball" (Pyrococcus furiosus) which thrives by feeding on carbohydrates in the super-heated ocean waters near geothermal vents. By manipulating this organism's genetic material, the researchers created a microorganism that is capable of living at much lower temperatures and feeds on carbon dioxide.
The research team then used hydrogen gas to create a chemical reaction in the microorganism that produces 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical used to make acrylics and many other products.
The researchers say that, with other genetic manipulations of this new strain of organism, they could create versions that generate a host of other useful industrial products, including fuel, from carbon dioxide.
Co-author of the study, Professor Michael Adams, compares the process to photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into sugars. These sugars can be fermented into fuels like ethanol but it is difficult to efficiently extract the sugars which are locked away inside the plant's complex cell walls.
"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" says Professor Adams.