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Newly Developed Microorganisms Produce Butanol Without Using Solar Cells

In the near future, it will be possible to replace fossil fuels with a carbon-neutral product developed from carbon dioxide, water, and solar energy.

Pia Lindberg, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Chemistry Ångström Laboratory.

Scientists at Uppsala University have succeeded in developing microorganisms that can efficiently synthesize the alcohol butanol using solar energy and carbon dioxide, eliminating the use of solar cells.

This has been described in a new research reported in the scientific journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The researchers have systematically designed and developed a range of tailored cyanobacteria that slowly synthesized increasing quantities of butanol in direct processes. When the finest cells are employed in long-term laboratory experiments, it can be observed that levels of production surpass levels that have been reported in previous articles.

Moreover, it is analogous to indirect processes where bacteria are fed with sugar, states Pia Lindberg, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Chemistry Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala University.

The potential and knowledge to tailor cyanobacteria in order to make them synthesize a range of chemicals from solar energy and carbon dioxide is budding along with developments in synthetic biology, technology, genetically changing them.

With a combination of technical development, systematic techniques, and the finding that by eliminating more products from the cyanobacteria, more butanol can be produced, the research paves the path ahead for fulfilling the concept.

Possible to Achieve Higher Production

It is already known that butanol can be synthesized using this process (proof-of-concept). What scientists have now been able to discover is that it is possible to attain considerably higher production, high enough that it can be used in production.

Practically, butanol can be employed in the automotive industry as an eco-friendly vehicle fuel—fourth-generation biofuel—and also as an eco-friendly constituent of rubber for tires. In both instances, fossil fuels are replaced by a carbon-neutral product developed from carbon dioxide, water, and solar energy.

In all trades, even larger industries that presently generate high greenhouse gas emissions from carbon dioxide will be able to use the process with cyanobacteria to combine carbon dioxide and as a result minimize their emissions considerably.

The most efficient photosynthetic organisms on earth are microscopic cyanobacteria. This research exploits their potential to efficiently harvest the energy from the sun and combine with carbon dioxide in the air, together with all the available tools to tailor cyanobacteria to synthesize desired products.

The study outcomes demonstrate that it will be possible to directly produce carbon-neutral chemicals and fuels from solar energy in the future, describes Peter Lindblad, Professor at the Department of Chemistry Ångström Laboratory at Uppsala University, who is the project leader.

The study at Uppsala University is part of the larger EU Photofuel project being coordinated by vehicle manufacturer VW, with the aim of creating the next generation of methods for sustainable production of alternative fuels in the transport sector.


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