MIT research team successfully turns garbage into biofuels

8 Mar 2016

A research team at MIT has developed a system that turns waste gases generated from industrial processes and garbage dumps into liquid biofuels.

The MIT team successfully trialled the system – which uses engineered microbes to convert the gas to fuel – at a plant in China.

Located just outside Shanghai, the plant operated from September 2015. Following its success, construction is set to begin on a larger plant, which the team hopes will prove that the technology can be scaled up.

The team will also use the bigger plant to evaluate costs and carbon footprint, to assess whether the project is viable on a larger scale.

During the process, bacteria is used to convert gases into acid, which is then mixed with an engineered yeast to produce the biofuel.

The process is doubly useful, not only creating a potentially viable alternative to our reliance on fossil fuels in transport, but also acting as a possible means of recycling harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The research – which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – indicates that the process draws more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than it creates.

Provided the carbon footprint remains low during large-scale production, this could be a valuable development in moving us away from fossil fuels.

The MIT team is not the only group of researchers working on technologies that could turn waste gas into fuel.

US company Lanzatech is using a different microbe to convert gas into either fuel or chemicals useful in industry, and US-based Catalysta is working on a method to turn methane into fuel.

Main image via Shutterstock

Kirsty Tobin was careers editor at Silicon Republic