Scientists have made a remarkable discovery on the slopes of an Italian volcano—an extraordinary microbe capable of consuming and storing CO2 faster than any other known species. This finding has sparked hopes among researchers that this organism’s abilities can be harnessed to create carbon-capture ponds, aiding in the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.
While it remains crucial to reduce the release of CO2 from fossil fuels into the atmosphere, many scientists now recognize that the predicted impacts of climate change are likely to occur regardless, given the existing levels of atmospheric CO2. Consequently, the removal of this CO2 has become equally significant.
Located near the Sicilian city of Palermo, the island of Vulcano served as a habitat for this unique microbe, which exhibited astonishingly rapid CO2 consumption and had the ability to sink in water. This sinking behavior holds particular importance as it enables machinery to collect the absorbed CO2 from the microbes. Consequently, carbon-capture ponds would no longer function as mere landfills but could be replenished repeatedly.
“The project takes advantage of 3.6 billion years of microbial evolution,” said Dr. Braden Tierney. He is from Weill Cornell Medical College, to The Guardian.
“The nice thing about microbes is that they are self-assembling machines. You don’t have that with a lot of the chemical approaches [to CO2 capture].”
Microbes have emerged as a promising component in the quest to combat climate change, capturing the attention of various stakeholders. In a groundbreaking development reported by GNN in 2022, a team of scientists employed by the biochemical firm LanzaTech achieved a major breakthrough. They devised a method to genetically modify bacteria, endowing them with the remarkable ability to consume carbon oxide and carbon dioxide. These microorganisms then efficiently converted the captured gases into two widely utilized chemicals: acetone and isopropanol. By doing so, LanzaTech’s innovative approach effectively curbs the emission of hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 that would have otherwise been generated.
The significance of such processes lies in their seamless integration into existing company infrastructures. LanzaTech’s breakthrough aligns with their ongoing production of acetone and isopropanol, which serve as crucial ingredients in numerous everyday household products. These versatile chemicals find applications in an array of items, ranging from cleaning agents that ensure pristine surfaces to the creation of bright, energy-efficient lightbulbs.
This groundbreaking discovery not only showcases the potential of microbes in addressing climate change but also underscores the importance of leveraging existing industrial systems for a more sustainable future. By utilizing microbes as catalysts for converting harmful greenhouse gases into valuable resources, companies like LanzaTech demonstrate a tangible and scalable solution that can make a meaningful impact on our planet’s climate crisis. As research and development in this field continue to progress, the transformative power of microbes in mitigating climate change holds the promise of a brighter, cleaner future for generations to come.
“There will be circumstances where the tree is going to outperform microbes or fungi. But there will also be circumstances where you really want a fast-growing aquatic microbe that sinks,” Dr. Tierney said.
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