While much research is being done on capturing carbon dioxide emissions at their source to reduce the amount expelled into the atmosphere, researchers at the University of Georgia’s Bioenergy Systems Research Institute have taken a different approach to tackle the problem. Taking a leaf out of the process used by plants to convert CO2 into something useful, they have uncovered a way to take CO2 from the atmosphere and transform it into useful industrial products, including, potentially, fuel.
The method took inspiration from photosynthesis, whereby plants use sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into sugars they use for energy. The researchers created a microorganism that imitates what plants do by manipulating the genetic material of Pyrococcus furiosus or "rushing fireball," a microorganism that feeds on carbohydrates in the super-heated ocean waters near geothermal vents.
The team modified the organism so that is able to feed at lower temperatures. They then used hydrogen gas to create a chemical reaction in the microorganism that incorporates CO2 into 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical that can be used to make acrylics and other products.