APPLICATIONS OF TECHNOLOGY:
- Biofuels production — diesel and kerosene
- Commodity chemical production
- Electrofuels research
- CO2 mitigation
- Direct conversion of H2 and CO2 into fuels
- More efficient than photosynthesis
- Not reliant on plant sugars; unaffected by commodity crop prices
- Recycles carbon from atmosphere and waste streams
- No need for arable land
- No biomass transportation or storage costs
A Berkeley Lab team led by Steven Singer and funded by ARPA-E has developed a method to blend hydrogen-producing electrocatalytic materials with genetically modified Ralstonia eutropha, a common soil bacterium, to produce hydrocarbons in a reactor — requiring only CO2 and electricity. This Microbial-Electrocatalytic system is a living inorganic-organic hybrid that can be tailored for the production of a broad range of useful hydrocarbon products, including biodiesel, jet fuel, and specialty chemicals.
R. eutropha is a model organism that can naturally produce hydrocarbons by metabolizing hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). It has a natural metabolic pathway that already supports significant carbon flux, producing polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) in granules. The Berkeley Lab team is using synthetic biology tools to optimize the bacterium for production of hydrocarbons such as methyl ketones, isoprenoids, and alkanes. In addition, the genetics of R. eutropha can be programmed to integrate onto the cellular surface inorganic electrocatalysts, which will generate hydrogen in the presence of an electric current.
The Berkeley Lab technology encompasses variations of both the host cell and the molecular hydrogen source. Although the system is optimized for biofuels production, it can also be adapted to produce biologically derived industrial chemicals.
R. eutropha and other Knallgas bacteria oxidize hydrogen under aerobic conditions and are ideal candidates for production of Electrofuels, the focus of a Department of Energy ARPA-E program for research on microorganisms that can produce liquid fuels without using petroleum or biomass. ARPA-E estimates that that electrofuels technology has the potential to be ten times more efficient than methods that rely on biomass.
DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Bench-scale prototype.
STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Krotz, D., “From Soil Microbe to Super Efficient Biofuel Factory,” Berkeley Lab News Center, May 3, 2012. http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2012/05/03/electrofuel/
REFERENCE NUMBER: IB-3131