DOE Funds Bioenergy Study

in Faculty, Front Page, Research
July 31st, 2014

Professor Sean Elliott

Professor Sean Elliott

Professor Sean Elliott and his group have received funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science for their project, “Tuning directionality for CO2 reduction in the oxo-acid: ferredoxin superfamily.”  Their aim  is to provide a unique, molecular perspective on how electron transfer processes are coupled to catalytic processes that can either be oxidations that liberate CO2, or reductive reactions that capture CO2.

Developing catalytic chemistry for bioenergy production requires a detailed understanding of the molecular mechanisms of multi-electron redox processes, particularly those that transform/capture CO2, producing molecules useful as fuel sources or chemical feed stocks.  Understanding the molecular details of how multi electron catalysis can be achieved is a major challenge in modern energy science, particularly in the context of CO2 transformations. While synthetic chemistry addresses the design and implementation of multi-electron transformations through the generation of homogenous or heterogenous catalysts, biological systems, such as plants and microorganisms, use diverse redox-active enzymes to achieve CO2 capture.  Such enzymes can be highly powerful catalysts; however, very little is known about their mechanisms of action, let alone how a potential reversible catalyst can be tuned to favor CO2 reduction chemistry.

The Elliott group aims to address this knowledge gap in the context of the enzymatic chemistry of the oxo-acid:ferredoxin oxidoreductase (OFOR) superfamily (see structure above right), which is capable of CO2 reduction.  Collaborating with them are  metalloprotein crystallographer, Professor Catherine Drennan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Professor Stephen Ragsdale (University of Michigan).