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How Cyanobacteria Use Solar Energy to Produce Biofuel

| Editor: Alexander Stark

Professor Peter Lindblad of Uppsala University
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Professor Peter Lindblad of Uppsala University (Source: Uppsala University)

The world is looking for methods to replace fossil fuels with a carbon-neutral product created from solar energy, carbon dioxide and water. Researchers at Uppsala University have now successfully produced microorganisms that can efficiently produce butanol using carbon dioxide and solar energy, without requiring to use solar cells.

Uppsala/Sweden — The knowledge and ability to modify cyanobacteria to produce a variety of chemicals from carbon dioxide and solar energy is emerging in parallel with advances in technology, synthetic biology, genetically changing them. Scientists at the University of Uppsala have designed and created a series of modified cyanobacteria that gradually produced increasing quantities of butanol in direct processes. Through a combination of technical development, systematic methods and the discovery that as more product removed from the cyanobacteria, the more butanol is formed, their study shows the way towards realizing this concept.

It is already known that it is possible to produce butanol using cyanobacteria. The researchers have now been able to show that it is possible to achieve significantly higher production volumes. They claim it is high enough to use their process in production. In practical terms, butanol can be used in the automotive industry as both a vehicle fuel — fourth generation biofuel — and as an environmentally friendly component of rubber for tyres. In both cases, fossil fuels are replaced by a carbon-neutral product created from solar energy, carbon dioxide and water.

Even larger industries that currently produce high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions from carbon dioxide are to be able to use the process with cyanobacteria to bind carbon dioxide and consequently significantly reduce their emissions.

Microscopic cyanobacteria are the most efficient photosynthetic organisms on earth. In this study, the scientists utilize their ability to efficiently capture the sun’s energy and bind to carbon dioxide in the air, alongside with all the tools available to modify cyanobacteria to produce desirable products. The results show that a direct production of carbon-neutral chemicals and fuels from solar energy will be a possibility in the future, explains Peter Lindblad, Professor at the Department of Chemistry Ångström Laboratory at Uppsala University who is leading the project.

Reference: The article Modular Engineering for Photosynthetic 1-Butanol Production in Cyanobacteria was published in Energy & Environmental Science, doi.org/10.1039/C9EE01214A

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