Bio-catalysis is a process that makes use of natural catalysts like protein enzymes to chemically transform complex organic compounds.
A bio-catalyst is a substance that aids in accelerating or modifying a physiological process of change. Common bio-catalysts are nothing but enzymes. Enzymes are basically proteins that act as catalysts in chemical reactions.
Bio-catalysts are environmentally acceptable
They are biodegradable
The probability of side-effects or reactions like decomposition and chemical rearrangement, seen often in traditional techniques due to synthetic catalysts, is low since enzymes act only under mild conditions.
A new bio-catalysis technique has been developed which can convert carbon dioxide into methane, ethane and propane. The three types of hydrocarbons are significant due to their requirement for the production of diesel, gasoline and other liquid fuels.
The obvious benefit of using the technique is the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from factories, refineries and power plants. The technique also provides a renewable supply of energy. Considering the amount of carbon dioxide emitted every year, there is an abundance of raw material available for the technique to provide enough energy for global consumption.
Fossil fuels, also known as hydrocarbons, are made up of multiple chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The number of carbon atoms present determines the energy content of a fossil fuel. Carbon dioxide is produced by the combustion of hydrocarbons and it is a compound containing carbon and oxygen.
Theoretically it is possible to break up carbon dioxide into its constituent elements i.e. carbon and oxygen and the carbon atoms can be used to produce hydrocarbons. In practice, the problem lies in the fact that carbon dioxide is a stable compound which cannot be easily broken down. The requirement of high amounts of heat and pressure to do the job makes it economically infeasible.
The new technique hopes to make it feasible by emulating certain metabolic processes used by living organisms under low temperature and low pressure conditions.
The technique uses the concept of natural organic chemical processes where carbon and hydrogen extracted from carbon dioxide and water, are used to create hydrocarbons through the use of biocatalysts along with a small amount of energy.
The technique splits a water molecule into hydrogen atoms and hydroxide ions by hydrolysis. The free radicals in hydroxide are used as the energy source in the bio-catalytic process while hydrogen is used for hydrocarbon production.
Though the new technique has been developed in the laboratory, it is still under development for use on an industrial scale. Through advanced nanotechnology processing of the bio-catalysts and an efficient process design, the technique can be deployed on an industrial scale. Advanced processing of the biocatalysts will also enable them to last longer before replacement thus helping to lower the cost involved in manufacturing the fuel.