Writing in a recent study published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, a team of researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden report a new method for producing butanol via exposing specially engineered cyanobacteria – the most efficient photosynthetic organisms on Earth – to carbon dioxide and sunlight.
“When the best cells are used in long-term laboratory experiments, we see levels of production that exceed levels that have been reported in existing articles. Furthermore, it is comparable with indirect processes where bacteria are fed with sugar,” said Pia Lindberg, Senior Lecturer at Uppsala University’s Department of Chemistry, Ångström Laboratory.
Although the underlying process has been demonstrated as proof-of-concept in the past, this is the first time where researchers have been able to tweak it enough to make it viable for commercial application.
According to the authors, carbon-neutral butanol could be suitable not only as a clean fuel for vehicles, but also as a component part of rubber and a means of significantly reducing CO2 emissions across many large-scale industries.
“In this study, we utilise their [cyanobacteria’s] ability to efficiently capture the sun’s energy and bind to carbon dioxide in the air, alongside with all the tools we have to modify cyanobacteria to produce desirable products,” explained leading author Peter Lindblad, Professor at the Department of Chemistry, Ångström Laboratory at Uppsala.
The study conducted by Lindbald and his colleagues is part of the EU Photofuel project coordinated by the company Volkswagen for the purposes of developing novel methods of producing biocatalytic solar fuels for sustainable transportation in Europe and around the world.