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Cell-Free Bioconversion of Natural Gas

GreenLight Biosciences
Highly Productive Cell-Free Bioconversion of Methane
Image of Greenlight's technology
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$4,500,000
Location: 
Medford, MA
Project Term: 
02/03/2014 to 03/06/2017
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Natural gas can be found in abundance throughout the United States, and is often used for heating, cooking, and electrical power generation. Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, an energy-rich compound not widely used for transportation. Currently, there are no commercially viable biological approaches to convert methane into liquid fuel, and synthetic approaches are expensive and inefficient at small scales. To take advantage of the country's remote natural gas resources, such as off-shore methane, new biological processes that use special microorganisms called "biocatalysts" are needed to transform methane into liquid fuel. These small-scale processes could provide an environment advantage since they would be carbon neutral or better relative to traditional fuels.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
GreenLight Biosciences is developing a cell-free bioreactor that can convert large quantities of methane to fuel in one step. This technology integrates biological and chemical processes into a single process by separating and concentrating the biocatalysts from the host microorganisms. This unique "cell-free" approach is anticipated to improve the productivity of the reactor without increasing cost. GreenLight's system can be erected onsite without the need for massive, costly equipment. The process uses natural gas and wellhead pressure to generate the power needed to run the facility. Any carbon dioxide that is released in the process is captured, condensed and pumped back into the well to maintain reservoir pressure and reduce emissions. This technology could enable a scalable, mobile facility that can be transported to remote natural gas wells as needed.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, GreenLight Biosciences' cell-free bioreactor will enable highly productive mobile methane conversion, allowing access to sources of natural gas regardless of their location for low-cost conversion to liquid fuel.
Security: 
An improved bioconversion process could create cost-competitive liquid fuels significantly reducing demand for foreign oil.
Environment: 
This technology would allow for utilization of small-scale remote natural gas resources or methane and carbon rich gas residues for fuel production reducing harmful emissions associated with conventional fuel technologies.
Economy: 
Expanding U.S. natural gas resources via bioconversion to liquid fuels could contribute tens of billions of dollars to the nation's economy while reducing or stabilizing transport fuel prices.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Marc von Keitz
Project Contact: 
Dr. Daniel MacEachran
Partners
University of Michigan
Iowa State University
Release Date: 
9/19/2013