Nav: Home

Biological wizardry ferments carbon monoxide into biofuel

July 26, 2016

ITHACA, N.Y. - Cornell University biological engineers have deciphered the cellular strategy to make the biofuel ethanol, using an anaerobic microbe feeding on carbon monoxide - a common industrial waste gas.

"Instead of having the waste go to waste, you make it into something you want," said Ludmilla Aristilde, assistant professor in biological and environmental engineering. "In order to make the microbes do our work, we had to figure out how they work, their metabolism."

Aristilde collaborated with her colleague Lars Angenent, professor of biological and environmental engineering, on the project. She explained, "The Angenent group had taken a waste product and turned it into a useful product."

To make biofuel from inorganic, gaseous industrial rubbish, the researchers learned that the bacterium Clostridium ljungdahlii responds thermodynamically - rather than genetically - in the process of tuning favorable enzymatic reactions.

Synthetic gas - or syngas - fermentation is emerging as a key biotechnological solution, as industrial-sized operations are looking to produce ethanol from their gaseous waste streams, according to Angenent, a fellow at Cornell's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. The scientists sought to grasp the physiological nature of the process: "These findings are important for the syngas fermentation community to design future strategies to improve production," Angenent said.

The scientists found the microbe feasts on and then ferments carbon monoxide. "When I eat food, I get energy out of my food by metabolizing my food," Aristilde said, an Atkinson fellow. "Microbes are the same. In terms of biostructure, the bacterial cells are starving for nutrients, so they are responding metabolically - which leads to a desired outcome, ethanol production."

To get the microbe to ferment the carbon monoxide, scientists "bubble it in the growth medium solution," explains Angenent, where the cells can feed on it. Angenent said carbon monoxide gas emitted as a byproduct of heavy industries - such as the process for coking coal in the production of steel - can potentially be channeled to bioreactors that contain these bacterial cells.

Said Aristilde: "The microbial cells then turn it into ethanol, an organic molecule. And carbon monoxide, an inorganic molecule, turns into something valuable we can use. That's what makes this special."
-end-
The study, "Ethanol Production in Syngas-Fermenting Clostridium ljungdahlii Is Controlled by Thermodynamics Rather Than by Enzyme Expression," was published in the May 2016 issue of Energy and Environmental Science and was funded by the National Science Foundation, the German Research Foundation, philanthropist Yossie Hollander and the Foundation des Fondateurs.

Cornell University

Related Ethanol Articles:

Discovery could lead to sustainable ethanol made from carbon dioxide
A recent discovery by Stanford University scientists could lead to a new, more sustainable way to make ethanol without corn or other crops.
Scientists engineer sugarcane to produce biodiesel, more sugar for ethanol
A multi-institutional team led by the University of Illinois have proven sugarcane can be genetically engineered to produce oil in its leaves and stems for biodiesel production.
Nano-spike catalysts convert carbon dioxide directly into ethanol
In a new twist to waste-to-fuel technology, scientists have developed an electrochemical process that uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol.
A more efficient way of converting ethanol to a better alternative fuel
A research team at the University of Rochester has developed a series of reactions that results in the selective conversion of ethanol to butanol, without producing unwanted byproducts.
Ethanol refining may release more of some pollutants than previously thought
Ethanol fuel refineries could be releasing much larger amounts of some ozone-forming compounds into the atmosphere than current assessments suggest, a new study finds.
More Ethanol News and Ethanol Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...