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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 24;112(8):2337-42. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1424872112. Epub 2015 Feb 9.

Efficient solar-to-fuels production from a hybrid microbial-water-splitting catalyst system.

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Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115;
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138; and.
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University, Boston, MA 02115.
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138; and


Photovoltaic cells have considerable potential to satisfy future renewable-energy needs, but efficient and scalable methods of storing the intermittent electricity they produce are required for the large-scale implementation of solar energy. Current solar-to-fuels storage cycles based on water splitting produce hydrogen and oxygen, which are attractive fuels in principle but confront practical limitations from the current energy infrastructure that is based on liquid fuels. In this work, we report the development of a scalable, integrated bioelectrochemical system in which the bacterium Ralstonia eutropha is used to efficiently convert CO2, along with H2 and O2 produced from water splitting, into biomass and fusel alcohols. Water-splitting catalysis was performed using catalysts that are made of earth-abundant metals and enable low overpotential water splitting. In this integrated setup, equivalent solar-to-biomass yields of up to 3.2% of the thermodynamic maximum exceed that of most terrestrial plants. Moreover, engineering of R. eutropha enabled production of the fusel alcohol isopropanol at up to 216 mg/L, the highest bioelectrochemical fuel yield yet reported by >300%. This work demonstrates that catalysts of biotic and abiotic origin can be interfaced to achieve challenging chemical energy-to-fuels transformations.


Ralstonia; bioelectrochemistry; biofuel; isopropanol; renewable energy

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