Meet the Bacteria That Might Save the World

Ralstonia eutropha

Ralstonia eutropha can convert carbon dioxide into diesel fuel

Scientists working with the United States Department of Energy and Joint BioEnergy Institute have demonstrated that the soil bacteria Ralstonia eutropha can be engineered to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into diesel fuel. It might just help solve two of the biggest problems facing the world in one fell swoop: global warming due to greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide is the primary gas emitted by industrial pollution) and fuel lack causing by dwindling oil supplies.

We earlier reported on Ultraculture that Ralstonia eutropha had been shown to convert carbon into biodegradable plastic as well as isobutanol alcohol, which can be used as a gasoline replacement—but the new development allows the direct creation of advanced biodiesel instead of simply alcohol.

Via the Daily Fusion:

A possible way to harvest and use atmospheric carbon dioxide to make high performance diesel fuel has been proposed by a team of scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) who have engineered a microbe now being used to produce biodegradable plastic into a strain that can produce advanced biofuel.

Ralstonia eutropha, if implemented, could be a game-changing—a world-changing—technology.

“We’ve shown that the bacterium Ralstonia eutropha growing with carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas is able to generate significant quantities of diesel-range methyl ketones,” says Harry Beller, a JBEI microbiologist who led this research, which was funded through DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. “This holds the promise of making carbon-neutral biofuels using non-photosynthetic, carbon-dioxide fixing bacteria as a less resource-intensive alternative to making these biofuels from cellulosic biomass.”

Beller, who directs the Biofuels Pathways department for JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division, and also is a Senior Scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division, led a previous study in which genetic engineering was used to develop a strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) that made methyl ketone compounds from the glucose in cellulosic biomass. Methyl ketones are naturally occurring aliphatic compounds now used in fragrances and flavorings. Beller and his JBEI colleagues have demonstrated that methyl ketones also have high diesel fuel ratings (cetane numbers), making them strong candidates as advanced biofuels.

Like graphene (which might solve both energy and water issues), Ralstonia eutropha, if implemented, could be a game-changing—a world-changing—technology. (Keep in touch with us at the Ultraculture Facebook group for as many more tools for a better future as we can find.)

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