Researchers have developed electrolysis cells using Archaea species that could use the current to convert carbon dioxide and water to methane without any organic material, bacteria or hydrogen usually found in microbial electrolysis cells.
The researchers created a two-chambered cell with an anode immersed in water on one side of the chamber and a cathode in water, inorganic nutrients and carbon dioxide on the other side of the chamber. They applied a voltage, but recorded only a minute current. The researchers then coated the cathode with the biofilm of Archaea and not only did current flow in the circuit, but the cell produced methane.
The cells are about 80 percent efficient in converting electricity to methane and because they use carbon dioxide as feed stock, would be carbon neutral if the electricity comes from a non-carbon source such as solar or wind power.
"The process does not sequester carbon, but it does turn carbon dioxide into fuel," said Logan. "If the methane is burned and carbon dioxide captured, then the process can be carbon neutral."
Methane is preferred over hydrogen because a large portion of the U.S. infrastructure is already set up to easily transport and deliver methane.
The research has been published in this week's issue of Environmental Science and Technology.