Thursday, March 28, 2013

Possible game-changer

One of the things that would truly change the playing field with regard to climate change and CO2 in the atmosphere is a process that effectively draws CO2 out of the atmosphere and makes something useful out of it.  That's obviously what plants do (they make cellulose, for example, if they are terrestrial woody plants, which can be used for building materials and for energy production, to name
a couple).  

The problem is, there isn't a big enough process and economic incentive to create a process large enough
to address the problem.  Some ideas have been floated, like pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and  injecting it into deep geological formations that can absorb CO2 and hold it sponge-like.  But the energy required to run the extraction process is prohibitive.  Other people have come up with CO2eating "trees"  that could be  deployed along roadways to suck up excess CO2 generated by traffic. 

Which would be expensive.

So what is needed is something relatively cheap that would be self-sustaining with a few basic ingredients, and produce something economically viable, meaning that it could be sold.

And for a long time I figured that would be biomass digestion;  let the plants grow and extract CO2 when doing so, then harvest, dump them into a bacterial digester, let the bacteria  digest and convert the biomass into biofuels.  Steps have been taken in that direction, but it's still hard to break down lignin.  Those cell walls keep getting in the way.

So take out the middle-man.  Have the plant cells produce something fuelish directly, using CO2  from the atmosphere.  If that was deployed large-scale, it could make transportation fuel production carbon-neutral.  That would be a wedge in the right direction.

Well, maybe perhaps a researcher in Georgia is on the right track.  He's engineered a hydrothermal vent bacterium to work at room temperature and take CO2 out of the atmosphere and convert it into a chemical compound called "3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical used to make  acrylics and many other products".

So if it can do that, can it make hexanol, heptanol, and octanol (i.e., gasoline)?  He thinks  he can.  Then you just grow the bacteria and let them eat CO2, and make the stuff we need.

(And the Repubicans want to reduce the budget for the Department of Energy and basic university research like this that could put the world on a better path.)

UGA discovery may allow scientists to make fuel from CO2 in the atmosphere

But I hope this potential game-changer gets the funds he needs to do what he thinks he can do.

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