Biofuels from E. Coli

Ginkgo Bioworks
Engineering E. coli as an Electrofuels Chassis for Isooctane Production
Graphic of Ginkgo Bioworks technology
ARPA-E Award: 
Boston, MA
Project Term: 
07/16/2010 to 01/15/2014
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Domestic biofuels are an attractive alternative to petroleum-based transportation fuels. Biofuels are produced from plant matter, such as sugars, oils, and biomass. This plant matter is created by photosynthesis, a process that converts solar energy into stored chemical energy in plants. However, photosynthesis is an inefficient way to transfer energy from the sun to a plant and then to biofuel. Electrofuels--which bypass photosynthesis by using self-reliant microorganisms that can directly use the energy from electricity and chemical compounds to produce liquid fuels--are an innovative step forward.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Ginkgo Bioworks is bypassing photosynthesis and engineering E. coli to directly use carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce biofuels. E. coli doesn't naturally metabolize CO2, but Ginkgo Bioworks is manipulating and incorporating the genes responsible for CO2 metabolism into the microorganism. By genetically modifying E. coli, Ginkgo Bioworks will enhance its rate of CO2 consumption and liquid fuel production. Ginkgo Bioworks is delivering CO2 to E. coli as formic acid, a simple industrial chemical that provides energy and CO2 to the bacterial system.
Impact Summary: 
If successful, Ginkgo Bioworks would create a liquid transportation fuel that is cost competitive with traditional gasoline-based fuels and 10 times more efficient than existing biofuels.
Cost-competitive electrofuels would help reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil and increase the nation's energy security.
Widespread use of electrofuels would help limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce demands for land, water, and fertilizer traditionally required to produce biofuels.
A domestic electrofuels industry could contribute tens of billions of dollars to the nation's economy. Widespread use of electrofuels could also help stabilize gasoline prices--saving drivers money at the pump.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Ramon Gonzalez
Project Contact: 
Dr. Jason Kelly
University of California- Berkeley
University of Washington
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution