Scientists Discover Microorganism that Can Take CO2 Out of the Atmosphere

Researchers at the University of Georgia claim they have discovered a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and make use of it, possibly even to create fuel.  Phys.org reports that “Their discovery may soon lead to the creation of biofuels made directly from the carbon dioxide in the air that is responsible for trapping the sun’s rays and raising global temperatures.”

Michael Adams

Michael Adams

“Basically, what we have done is create a microorganism that does with carbon dioxide exactly what plants do—absorb it and generate something useful,” said Michael Adams, member of UGA’s Bioenergy Systems Research Institute.  Just like photosynthesis removes CO2 from the atmosphere to make sugars that feed plants, these microorganisms, called Pyrococcus furiosus or “rushing fireball,” have been genetically manipulated to feed on CO2 in the atmosphere.

The research team then used hydrogen gas to create a chemical reaction in the microorganism that incorporates carbon dioxide into 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical used to make acrylics and many other products. With other genetic manipulations of this new strain of P. furiosus, Adams and his colleagues could create a version that generates a host of other useful industrial products, including fuel, from carbon dioxide.

Adams claims that when the P. furiosus fuel is burned, it releases the same amount of CO2 that was needed to create it.  While this supposed ‘carbon-neutrality’ may sound better than oil or coal, it is still problematic.  There are several concerns about the viability and longevity of genetically modified microorganisms, not to mention the energy needed to carry out these processes, generate hydrogen, etc.  As well, carbon neutrality is not good enough at this stage in our emissions history, and renewable energy sources should be at the forefront of our innovation.  Adams rash statement that this discovery will allow us to “cut out plants as the middlemen” of carbon sequestering is also a preposterous red flag.  However, this discovery could prove very useful in removing CO2 from our atmosphere as we transition into a renewable energy economy.
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7 Comments on “Scientists Discover Microorganism that Can Take CO2 Out of the Atmosphere”

  1. Mordanicus April 1, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    I hope that it will work, although I am a little bit sceptical at this moment. However, more of this kind of research is what we need.

    • andhastings April 1, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      Agreed, I’m very skeptical myself, but this would be a game changer if he’s right.

      Plus, I feel like this would inadvertently discourage people from being more eco-friendly when they think this new technology will make up the difference for them.

      • Mordanicus April 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

        Yes, that was also my suspicion. It’s an attitude I see by many people, they acknowledge the problem but they think science/technology will solve anything whilst we can maintain our live style (compare with obesed people who are looking for some magical slim fast program, which allows them to maintain their current diet).

  2. utopiandreaming April 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    Exactly, there’s a danger in encouraging complacency and reliance on technological fixes to avoid significantly scaling back on consumption and reorganizing our system of production. Never the less, if it works, it could help us to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. We would just have to make sure that we were still making big moves towards renewable energy and changing our lifestyles.

    • pendantry April 17, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

      Sounds good… until the GM organism gets into the wild, takes over, sucks all the CO2 from the atmosphere — and we jump from the frying pan to the freezer.

      Can you say myxomatosis? (By 1955, 95% of the UK rabbit population was dead — from a measure originally introduced in Australia to cure a problem there).

      We interfere with the biosphere at our peril. Will we ever learn that lesson? I, for one, strongly doubt it.

      • utopiandreaming April 18, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

        Excellent point. The long-term (and likely unintended) impacts of such a project are entirely unknown. Relying on technocratic fixes to problems that should be addressed by reducing consumption and changing society in general will almost always exaggerate the problem or just create new ones. Aye!

  3. kmcgiveron April 2, 2013 at 3:25 am #

    Reblogged this on Going Sustainable.

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