Alternative Fuel with Electricity and Carbon Dioxide

In a recent study published in Science journal the team of James Liao, UCLA's Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair in Chemical Engineering, found a way to store electrical energy as they would chemical energy in higher alcohols. This can them be used as a liquid transportation fuel. Liao and his team have figure out how to genetically engineer a lithoautotrophic microorganism to produce isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol in an electro-bioreactor using carbon dioxide. When carbon dioxide was used as the only carbon source and the electricity as the only energy source, they found this new method of storing energy. 

The current way to store energy is within a lithium ion battery. This is a low density way of doing it. The density of the energy could be raised significantly when the energy is contained within a liquid fuel. Because of the current energy storage method, storing energy is difficult and inefficient. The current methods of storing energy include chemical batteries, hydraulic pumping and water splitting - these are all low density storage methods. 

The findings in the study go on to outline their use of using solar panels to generate the needed energy instead of using the conventional light and dark reactions. This makes this method of energy generation extremely conventient as solar panels can be mounted in the desert or on rooftops and the use of dark reactions are not necessary for this method. In the theory, the hydrogen is generated through the solar energy and creates the CO2 conversion through the lithoautotrophic microorganism engineered synthesization process to create a high-density liquid fuel. 

There are safety and processing concerns with the use of hydrogen throughout this process. Liao and his team has also found an answer to this risk. By replacing the hydrogen is formic acid as the intermediary the safety risk is eleminated and the process is still effective. Not only will this process and discovery aid in providing an alternate energy source, it can also become an important role in the processes used in the biomass refining. 

Now that his team has worked with and demonstrated the principle, they are ready to take it to a larger scale. This study was funded by a grant through the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.