Comprehensive Energy and Environment Research

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CAPS Team’s Research Mimics Cellular Environment to Eliminate Greenhouse Gases

Feb. 2, 2016

Discovering methods to convert greenhouse gases into high value materials is the key goal of the Carbon Dioxide and Methane Activation Project Team (CMAP) at Ohio State’s Center for Applied Plant Sciences.

Two of the most abundant greenhouse gases found in our atmosphere are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). These gases trap thermal radiation close to the Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to global warming and climate change. CMAP’s researchers intend to find a solution for the greenhouse gas problem.

CMAP’s plan is to construct systems that mimic the cellular environment’s ability to eliminate greenhouse gases but that are sturdy, affordable and separable from the final product. Jon Parquette, professor of chemistry and a CMAP team member, says he is enthusiastic about the projects the team is exploring.

“The long-term goal for CMAP is to develop scalable, catalytic methods for the conversion of CO2 and CH4 into higher value molecules or materials,” says Parquette. “Biology-inspired catalysts derived from bacteria and plants extract CO2 from air and convert it to important, energy-rich materials.”

The team, made up of biochemists, microbiologists and engineers, has been conducting this research for two years. The project has four main goals to accomplish: (1) capture a CO2-reducing enzyme to mimic the CO2 enzyme found in nature; (2) create a catalytic RNA molecule for converting methane to methanol, a toxic, colorless, volatile and flammable liquid alcohol; (3) develop CH4 conversion into commodity chemicals such as acrylic acid and butanol, and (4) develop strategies to use these catalysts in real-world environments.

The team achieved its first goal in nine months. The researchers encapsulated the enzyme RubisCO, which is present in plant chloroplasts. The team has also been able to optimize the activity of this encapsulated enzyme to near-native activity levels of the natural enzyme.

CMAP’s work toward its second goal is underway. In nature, organisms that utilize methane as their sole energy source convert it to methanol via enzymes called methane mono-oxygenases. The team plans to use this type of enzyme to convert the greenhouse gases to usable products, a difficult task due to the reduced efficiency of synthetic catalysts that mimic the active sites of the enzyme. As the researchers explored different paths for methane conversion, they developed methane-trapping molecular baskets, which convert methane to methanol upon entrapment. The team’s findings were published in the science journal Chemical Communications (2014, Issue 50).

CMAP team members are Ohio State faculty members Robert Tabita, microbiology; Vishnu Sundaresan and Vish Subramaniam, mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Jon Parquette, Venkat Gopalan, Jovica Badjic, T.V. RajanBabu, and Christopher Jaroniec, chemistry and biochemistry.

Read more about CMAP.

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