As gas prices continue to rise, alternative fuel sources continue to be a hot topic in the scientific community. To that end, scientists at UCLA have just released the results of a study in which they successfully generated a liquid fuel by using solar powered electricity, carbon dioxide, and genetically modified microorganisms. The microorganism was placed into an electro-bioreactor with carbon dioxide as the sole source of carbon and solar-generated electricity as the only energy source. Treated properly, this genetically-altered microorganism was able to produce isobutanol — an organic compound that is a colorless, flammable liquid that could potentially be used as an alternative to gasoline in a combustion engine.
This wasn't the first time that microorganisms have been used to generate fuel — back in 2009, some UCLA researchers extracted a biofuel from bacteria using photosynthesis. This new process bears some similarities, but uses the solar panels rather than photosynthesis for collecting and converting energy; James Liao, UCLA's Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair in Chemical Engineering, said that "this method could be more efficient than the biological system." Now that the UCLA team has proved this can be done, they'll now be working to scale the process up and see if it can be utilized in higher capacities.