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Berkeley's artificial photosynthesis turns carbon dioxide into future fuel

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Whenever a scientific discovery claims to have solved one of the world's most critical issues, it's hard not to get a little bit excited. Today, our hopes are riding high on the news that Berkeley University might have just worked out how to solve the problem of climate change. Working in collaboration with the Department of Energy and the University of California, researchers have developed a system that captures carbon dioxide and turns it into chemicals that can be used to make plastics, drugs and, even better, biofuel.

Put simply, the system is an artificial form of photosynthesis using a series of semiconducting nanowires and genetically engineered E.coli bacteria. Whereas a plant would absorb carbon dioxide and produce sugar and oxygen, this system creates acetate, a building block for various organic compounds.

In terms of its practical applications, the team can already extract promising if not yet useful quantities of each substance. For instance, the process kicks out a 26 percent yield of butanol (biofuel), 25 percent amorphadiene (base component for anti-malaria drugs) and 52 percent amounts of PHB (biodegradeable plastic).

With more time, money, research and some luck, the team hopes to get those figures up to a level where the technology is commercially viable. If the system can be then created on a large enough scale, the carbon in the atmosphere could be captured and converted into a sustainable green gas for your vehicle that wouldn't require pulling more fossil fuels out of the ground.


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