A bacterium that eats electricity to convert CO2 into methane

April 6th, 2009 - 12:53 pm ICT by ANI  

London, April 6 (ANI): A team of scientists has discovered a new bacterium that feeds on electricity and uses it to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into methane, which could then be stored and burned when needed.

According to a report in New Scientist, Bruce Logan’s team at Pennsylvania State University in University Park discovered the bacterium.

When living on the cathode of an electrolytic cell, the organism can take in electrons and use their energy to convert carbon dioxide into methane.

Logan’s team discovered this behaviour in a mixed culture of bacteria, dominated by ethanobacterium palustre - the first to be observed directly manufacturing methane in this way.

The behaviour had been previously suspected but not confirmed.

Tom Curtis at the Institute for Research on Environment and Sustainability at Newcastle University, UK, said that the use of bacteria, rather than conventional catalysts, is a plus.

“There are no noble metals involved, so it should be very cheap,” he said.

Of the energy put into the system as electricity, 80 percent was eventually recovered when the methane was burned, which is a fairly high efficiency.

“You don’t get all the energy back, but that’s a problem with any form of energy storage,” said Curtis.

If the CO2 used to make the methane was captured from the flue pipes of power stations or even - using more complex methods - from the open air, the methane would become a carbon-neutral fuel.

Logan is optimistic about the method’s potential.

“Commercial applications could be just a few years down the road,” he said.

According to Curtis, “If you have a windmill, say, you need a relatively simple way to store the energy. What I like about this method is it’s simple, it’s replicable and it’s scalable.” (ANI)

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