Researchers working to turn CO2 in the atmosphere into fuel

Updated Apr 5, 2013

emissions smogCarbon dioxide is the main culprit when it comes to climate change, and researchers around the world are trying to figure out how to generate less of it while still providing us all with enough power and energy.

But what if you could take this excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and transform it into fuel? That’s exactly what researchers at the University of Georgia are trying to do, according to

“Basically, what we have done is create a microorganism that does with carbon dioxide exactly what plants do—absorb it and generate something useful,” professor Michael Adams, a member of UGA’s Bioenergy Systems Research Institute, told

Plants use the process of photosynthesis to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars they use as food. As is being done with this green roof we reported on recently, we can take those sugars they generate and turn them into fuels such as ethanol. However, the Georgia research team has found a way to take the middleman, plants, out of the equation.


By manipulating the genetic material of  a microorganism called Pyrococcus furiosus, which means “rushing fireball,” the researchers created a version of the stuff that eats up carbon dioxide and then produces 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical.

With some more tweaks to the genetic structure of the microorganism, the research team could theoretically use it to produce fuel. And, when that fuel is burned, it only releases the same amount of carbon dioxide used to create it. That makes it carbon neutral and much less harmful to the atmosphere than gas, coal and oil.

The research team is a way off from producing fuel at this point, but says this discovery was an important first step.