Monday, July 5, 2010

CO2 into Alcohol

James Liao of University of California got the EPA's Green Chemistry award for creating microorganisms that convert CO2 into butanol for fuel.  Liao has shown that butanol has a higher energy content and is easier to transport because it is not miscible with water.

In addition, butanol would be easy to separate from water. One of the reasons ethanol is not a very efficient fuel source is that distilling it out from mixtures with water is very energy intensive.

His primary work is taking biochem pathways that convert the three carbon pyruvate into the four carbon amino acid valine, and diverting it to butrylaldehyde and then butanol.

As discussed in Aug-09 and July 09, algae is attracting a surprising amount of attention from practical minded companies as a way of making biofuel. If one could make butanol instead of sugary biomass, that would be more efficient.

James Liao of UCLA

He has been working on doing this in e coli for fifteen years, but the new award seemingly is in because it is able to use photosynthesis to build the amino acid.  This uses up CO2 and would create greenhouse gas credits if these were implemented in the future.

It also eliminates the problem of  using starch or cellulose as a food source for the e coli.

Easel Biotechnologies is his company working on the commercial applications.