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article imageUCLA researchers find way to save the world while creating fuel

By Stephanie Dearing     Dec 12, 2009 in Science
Researchers at the UCLA have successfully engineered a bacteria to eat carbon dioxide -- a gas thought to be a major contributor to global warming.
California - But that's not all this bacteria does. In the process of eating up the co2, the bacteria produces a fuel called isobutanol. The beauty of the process, researchers say, is that all that is needed to get the ball rolling is sunshine. The bacteria works through photosynsthesis. Isobutanol is thought to be a good replacement for gasoline as well as other carbon-based fuels. In this good-news scenario, humans can have their cake and eat it too, or in this case, keep their automobiles but not cause global warming. UCLA researchers are flogging their findings as best for the earth and people, saying the process it has created is more efficient and economic than other biofuels under study. The UCLA researchers genetically modified cyanobacteria to produce isobutanol from carbon dioxide.
Isobutanol is already used as an additive to gasoline, as well as other commercial uses. The idea of using it as a biofuel has been under consideration for at least a year by researchers at UCLA. Last year, researcher James C. Liao had anounced that genetically modified E.coli bacteria could convert sugar into isobutanol. Apparently isobutanol is ideal as a replacement for gasoline because it contains high levels of carbon.
However, UCLA is the second facility to be able to create fuel from bacteria and sunlight. Last month Joule Biotechnologies announced that it had accomplished the same feat, producing diesel-equivalent fuels. Calling the technology "Direct Solar Fuels," the relatively new company is poised to become a global leader in the field.
Cyanobacteria are described by Berkely University as being "... one of the largest and most important groups of bacteria on earth." Not only is this bacteria thought to be responsible for such things as nitrogen fertilization and the creation of oil deposits, this bacteria co-exists within plants and enables plants to derive food through photosynthesis.
The only problem with isobutanol is that it has not got the same oomph as gasoline. The other drawback is that the biofuel is still expensive, and a commercial-scale facility has yet to be created. Isobutanol is said to be compatible with existing automotive fueling systems.
Work on adopting a similar technology to replace batteries has been underway for some time. A European researcher, Yossef Elabd was working on developing fuel cells but was having difficulty in creating the actual physical system.
More about UCLA, Co2, Carbon dioxide, Isobutanol, Cyanobacteria
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