Awards Database

Scialog: Collaborative Teams - 2012

Sean Elliot

Department of Chemistry, Boston University

Gordana Dukovic

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Colorado, Boulder

Photo-induced CO2 Reduction Using Reverse TCA Cycle Enzymes

Gordana Dukovic, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado, and Sean Elliott, associate professor of chemistry at Boston University, are collaborating to explore ways to boost Nature’s ability to break down the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). In plants this process is called photosynthesis. Over billions of years plants have evolved enzymes – natural catalysts, usually made of proteins—to accelerate photosynthesis. The enzymes assist in capturing CO2, breaking it down and recombining it with oxygen and hydrogen to make glucose. As part of this process, particles of light (photons) hit atoms in the plant, freeing the atoms’ electrons to do the work of photosynthesis. Current attempts to imitate Nature’s ability to break down CO2 are simply not very efficient. Dukovic and Elliott are studying how specific enzymes perform this task. Furthermore, the pair will attempt to improve on Nature by incorporating into the process semiconductor nanocrystals – tiny artificial particles—to boost the input of photons/electrons into the enzymes that break down CO2. More specifically, they are looking closely at the “redox” abilities of specific enzymes. Redox is the chemists’ term for the process by which all atoms or molecules lose or gain electrons. For example, a decrease of oxygen’s atomic connections to carbon by the introduction of hydrogen produces methane (CH4) in a redox process known as reduction. On the other hand, when a carbon atom transfers electrons to molecular oxygen there is a reaction that yields CO2. This redox process is called oxidation. Dukovic and Elliott are primarily interested in the reduction process. If their work is successful – and there are no guarantees in advanced research such as this – it might one day lead to the development of more efficient ways to use CO2 to produce renewable fuels, while also removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

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