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The magic CO2-eating micro-organism: too good to be true?

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Richard Cable | 12:19 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Following on from our post about things that absorb carbon dioxide, new research has potentially identified a micro-organism that eats carbon dioxide and could revolutionise wind and solar power.

lightning226x226.jpgThe problem with wind and solar power is load balancing: sunshine and breezes are unpredictable and unreliable sources of energy and it's the devil's own business to match them with the peaks and troughs of actual demand. Put another way, you can guarantee that at half-time in the FA Cup, the wind will drop off and the sun will go in just as everyone wants to put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

What we need is an effective means of storing this power whenever it's being generated and releasing it whenever it's required, which is where Methanobacterium palustre might come in.

When stimulated with electricity under the right conditions, this 'new' micro-organism is understood to convert CO2 into methane. What this means is that as the wind and sun generate electrical energy, the Methanobacterium palustre converts it into chemical energy in the form of methane, which can then be captured and burnt to turn it back into electrical energy on demand. Plus it's carbon neutral.

But not everyone is buying the findings of Professor Bruce Logan, whose lab at Pennsylvania State University first identified Methanobacterium palustre's unique properties. It belongs to a group of micro-organisms called Archea, which some say makes it too basic to do what Logan says it does.

'It just doesn't have the cellular machinery to turn electrons directly into methane,' said Bruce Rittmann of Arizona State University, who is understood to be writing a paper challenging the discovery.

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