November 28, 2022

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The arrival of science and bacteria engineered to digest carbon dioxide

Use an array of bacteria to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into acetone and isopropanol (IPA), an alcohol that can dissolve many oils. This is the goal that led a study published in the journal nature biotechnologyconducted by scholars from Northwestern University And from LanzaTech, the leader in gas fermentation technology. The authors explain that bacteria are known to perform many important biochemical functions, such as fermentation, used in the production of yogurt and beer. The team, led by Michael Jewett, Michael Koepke and Cheng Ling, used bacteria engineered to break down waste carbon dioxide and produce industrial chemicals.
This new gas fermentation process removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, while at the same time reducing the need for the fossil fuels needed to produce acetone and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Experts note that such an approach could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 160 percent compared to conventional processes. “The acceleration of the climate crisis – notes Jewett – poses urgent challenges to humanity, linked to the release of carbon dioxide. Using biological and chemical knowledge we can develop a sustainable and renewable system to exploit available carbon dioxide and transform the bio-economy.” IPA is widely used as an antiseptic and disinfectant, and is the basis of one of the disinfectant formulas recommended by the World Health Organization, which is highly effective in inactivating SARS-CoV-2. Acetone is a solvent for many plastics and synthetic fibres, a thinner for polyester resins, and cleaning tools and is widely used to remove cosmetic coatings. The research team used Clostridium autoethanogenum, an anaerobic bacteria designed to ferment carbon dioxide and produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and acetone. Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech says: “Our work has the potential to help avert climate catastrophe – today most essential chemicals are derived exclusively from fossil resources. Acetone and IPA are linked to a $10 billion global market. The ability to produce these materials from CO2 is a really cool result.”

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