Renewable Petroleum a Possibility?

03/23/2011 |


University of Minnesota researchers have discovered a crucial key to unlocking the possibility of renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight, and dioxide.

Graduate student Janice Frias has made the critical discovery by figuring out how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by bacteria into ketones, which can then be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels.  Patents are being filed on this process.

The research is published in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

"There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels," says Larry Wackett, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Biochemistry, and lead author. 

”CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment. It's also free. And we can use the same infrastructure to process and transport this new hydrocarbon fuel that we use for fossil fuels."

Wackett is principal investigator for the ARPA-e grant. The team of co-investigators includes Jeffrey Gralnick, assistant professor of microbiology and Marc von Keitz, chief technical officer of BioCee, as well as Bhan and Schmidt. They are the only group using a photosynthetic bacterium and a hydrocarbon-producing bacterium together to make hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide.

The University of Minnesota team is utilizing Synechococcus, a bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight and coverts CO2 to sugars. 

Renewable petroleum is an exciting possibility on the horizon for sustainable, green goals.

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