Paving the way for carbon-eating bacteria technology

Researchers provide new insights about bacteria that have potential for bioenergy applications.

Today’s headlines:

🔬 RESEARCH: Scientists at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute published two papers providing new insight about the growth of individual cyanobacteria — photosynthetic bacteria that live in water or moist soil and eat or “fix” carbon dioxide twice as efficiently as plants. Until now, scientists were unable to measure the growth of individual cyanobacteria cells, which is critical to understanding how they fix CO2.

(Cyanobacterial microcolonies. Photo by Jeffrey C. Cameron and Kristin A. Moore, RASEI)

The findings from the two articles could open doors for using this bacteria to develop new bioenergy technologies and further improve the bacteria’s carbon-eating efficiency. For example, engineers might be able to add the bacteria to plants to improve their “carbon fixing” which could lead to more productive crops that are used for bioenergy, or super efficient reactions that transform sunlight into valuable chemicals. Cyanobacteria have long been known to transform CO2 into valuable chemicals, but the production was too low for commercialization, as noted in a 2017 Nature Communications article. “It’s been really challenging to produce renewable fuels from cyanobacteria because of limited yield,” Jeffrey Cameron, RASEI researcher and co-author of the two articles, said in a news release. “Our single cell experiments can help understand the real limitations and bottlenecks for photosynthetic production of high-value fuels and chemicals.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

👏 PARTNERSHIP: St. Louis-based Anheuser-Buschextended its partnership with Indigo Agriculture and expanded the scope of a project to produce more environmentally responsible rice crops; the brewer is the largest U.S. end user of rice. Project results thus far include a nearly 24% reduction in water use, 13% reduction in nitrogen application, and nearly 27% reduction methane emissions. (news release)

♽ REUSE: Purdue University researchers are working on an innovation to reuse lignin, a naturally occurring plant cell component that becomes a waste byproduct in the pulp and paper industries. The lignin would be used to create stretchable, wearable devices that would harvest and transform mechanical energy from a human body to power the device. (Purdue University)

🔋 BATTERIES: Northwestern University researchers are leading a team designing a system to let battery-free Internet of Things devices keep time during power outages by harvesting ambient energy such as solar, kinetic, and thermal power. The researchers’ work on battery-free technology is driven by their desire to reduce the amount of battery waste and the carbon footprint of electronics. (Northwestern University)

📑 SEEKING INFO: Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy released a request for information for technical and general information for developing a renewable gas project that would service customers in the country’s mid-section. Responses are due July 15. (Xcel Energy)

💰 FUNDING: Chicago startup Rise Gardens (featured in Centered last month) raised $2.6 million in seed funding. The indoor hydroponics company’s sales have doubled every month since January. (Chicago Inno)

🎉 NEW PRODUCT: Chicago-based Civil Agents, a communications agency focused on mitigating waste, released Safety Check, a free online platform for the waste and recycling industries to guide workplace safety amid the pandemic and beyond. (news release)

🔀 NEW POSITION: Dr. Thomas Lograsso is the new director of the Critical Materials Institute at Ames Laboratory in Iowa. While serving as interim director he led CMI’s research efforts surrounding sustainability of rare earth elements and critical elements, including developing substitutes for those elements, which increasingly are used in electronics. (Ames Laboratory)

Do you work for a Midwest business or organization working on innovations that help the environment? If you’re willing to share your story, email or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.

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