Modified Microbes To Generate Bio-Fuels...From Air?

Renewable fuels have been in the news for years now, with much of the emphasis on ethanol and so-called bio-diesel. Both of these fuels come directly or indirectly from food crops. Some bio-diesel is derived from vegetable oils and some from algae based conversion systems. The one big problem with any of these sources is that all of them take up considerable land to grow and the conversion process is neither cheap or easy.

But that may be changing.

A new process developed by UCLA may take the crops out of bio-fuels and allow for large scale production an alternative fuel called isobutanol, a “higher alcohol” with an energy density approaching that of gasoline. Its feedstock? Carbon dioxide.

Using a modified bacteria for the conversion and electricity as the sole energy source, the system has the potential to be “more efficient than the biological system.”

Photosynthesis is the process of converting light energy to chemical energy and storing it in the bonds of sugar. There are two parts to photosynthesis — a light reaction and a dark reaction. The light reaction converts light energy to chemical energy and must take place in the light. The dark reaction, which converts CO2 to sugar, doesn't directly need light to occur.


[James] Liao explained that with biological systems, the plants used require large areas of agricultural land. However, because Liao's method does not require the light and dark reactions to take place together, solar panels, for example, can be built in the desert or on rooftops.

As nice as electric cars may be, their batteries still can't store enough energy or be recharged fast enough to make them practical except for local travel. Liquid fuels have a much higher energy density and it takes little time to refill a fuel tank. If the process created by Liao and his team at UCLA can be scaled up, the need for growing food crops for use as bio-fuel feedstock will disappear. That means agricultural operations can go back to growing crops for food rather than to turn into fuel.

According to Liao this process can also be used to generate a variety of other chemicals as well.

If this pans out, I can see it as a far better and less expensive means of generating bio-fuels than the present system.