Enzyme turns polluted air into fuel

11th November, 2010 by Anonymous

Synthetic fuels could be produced from carbon monoxide, thanks to bacteria catalyst

Scientists have found an enzyme that could be used to catalyse the conversion of polluted air to create synthetic fuels, according to a report published in the journal Science.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, isolated a particular enzyme, vanadium nitrogenase, in the bacteria, Azotobacter vinelandii, commonly found in soil. Markus Ribbe and his team found that the enzyme – which converts nitrogen into ammonia to build some of life’s essentials, such as DNA and proteins – can also convert carbon monoxide (CO) into short chains of carbon two or three atoms long, such as propane – the blue-flamed gas used in kitchen stoves.

Research is ongoing, with the long-term goal of refining the process for industrial applications, such as the production of fuel from polluted air, Ribbe told Green Futures.The challenge is to convert CO into the longer chains of carbon atoms that make up petrol.

Air pollution
Exhaust potential...

The development builds on a reaction known as the Fischer-Tropsch process, first developed in the 1920s to produce liquid fuel from coal. Concerns over peak oil have seen a revival of interest in the technology.

But despite a long history of interest in the conversion process, commercial viability remains some way off. Chris Goodall, author and Carbon Commentary blogger, cautions: “This technology is right on the edge. There are lots of people at the moment looking at different ways to turn short carbon molecules into long ones and exploit the energy gain, but we are 10-15 years away from this being achieved.”

– Flemmich Webb

Image credits: Phil Augustavo / istock

Featured in

Green Futures is a publication that features an inspiringly never-ending supply of sustainability innovations.

Charles Simmonds, News Director, BBC Newsroom

We're moving!

Green Futures magazine has been a source of solutions and inspiration for a sustainable future since 1996. Now, Forum for the Future has launched a new platform to turn inspiration into action. Please visit our Futures Centre and discover our new annual publication, Green Futures: The Long View.