Scientists cite as a major driver of climate change the large amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere that's created by the burning of fossil fuels. They spend day after day trying to figure out a way to generate power for the world's populations, but at the same time leave a smaller carbon footprint.
Now, researchers at the University of Georgia say they've hit upon a way to take the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and turn it into useable industrial products. The impact of such a discovery is potentially huge.
The goal is to remove the CO2 directly from the air and turn it into biofuel -- not only helping power the world, but hopefully taking down global temperatures at the same time.
The researchers essentially have created a microorganism that acts like a plant that removes the carbon dioxide from the air and turns it into something we can use. During photosynthesis, plants utilize sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide from the air to create their food source. This would behave in a similar fashion.
"What this discovery means is that we can remove plants as the middleman," Michael Adams, a member of the University's Bioenergy Systems Research Institute, and co-author of the stud, said in a statement. "We can take carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into useful products like fuels and chemicals without having to go through the inefficient process of growing plants and extracting sugars from biomass."
The scientists are able to use a microorganism called a "rushing fireball," or "Pyrococcus furious." The fireball typically feeds on carbohydrates in the super-heated ocean waters near geothermal vents, but researchers were able to create a version of the organism that feeds off of carbon dioxide at a much lower temperature.
They then were able to create a 3-hydroxypropionic acid by using hydrogen gas to create a chemical reaction with the fireball. Researchers believe that this reaction will set the stage for more useful industrial products, including fuel to be produced from carbon dioxide.
"This is an important first step that has great promise as an efficient and cost-effective method of producing fuels," Adams said in the statement. "In the future we will refine the process and begin testing it on larger scales."
This story originally appeared on CBSNews.com.