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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Easy electricity to methane

Researchers at Penn State have found a bacterium that converts electricity and carbon dioxide into methane.

The article in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (summarized in New Scientist) focuses on its use for energy storage. As the abstract concludes:
These results show that electromethanogenesis can be used to convert electrical current produced from renewable energy sources (such as wind, solar, or biomass) into a biofuel (methane) as well as serving as a method for the capture of carbon dioxide.
The energy efficiency is about 80%, and the technology is considered attractive because of its simplicity. As New Scientist quotes one British scientist:
"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."
While other approaches convert CO2 to hydrogen, methane (i.e. natural gas) is better suited to our existing infrastructure. If nothing else, CO2 from power plants could be used to make CNG for urban buses or home heating.

BTW, Penn State has historically had one of the most draconian IPR policies of any US university (what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine). So if this lends itself to commercialization, the university (let’s hope not the politicians in Harrisburg) could have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend.

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