The engineered bacteria can produce isobutanol directly, but the UCLA team says it is currently easier to use an existing and relatively inexpensive chemical catalysis process to convert isobutyraldehyde gas to isobutanol, as well as other useful petroleum-based products.
In addition to Liao, the team included Shota Atsumi, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar now on the UC Davis faculty, and UCLA postdoctoral scholar Wendy Higashide.
An ideal place for this system would be next to existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide, according to the researchers, because it could potentially allow the greenhouse gas to be captured and directly recycled into liquid fuel.
"We are continuing to improve the rate and yield of the production," Liao said. "Other obstacles include the efficiency of light distribution and reduction of bioreactor cost. We are working on solutions to these problems."