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Microbe-Based Methane to Diesel Conversion

University of Washington (UW)
ARPA-E Award: 
Seattle, WA
Project Term: 
02/01/2013 to 06/30/2016
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Natural gas, predominately methane, is a domestic fossil resource that can be found in significantly large quantities. Yet, a portion of the nation's natural gas reserves are in remote regions that do not support costly infrastructure investment in order to bring this resource to market. Biologically based technologies capable of converting methane to liquid fuels may be advantageous over current state-of-the-art technologies, which typically rely on large-scale, capital-intensive projects. Developing small-scale bio-based methane-to-liquid reactors that could be deployed in remote locations would make methane resources economically viable and provide additional energy and economic security to the nation.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
The University of Washington (UW) is developing technologies for microbes to convert methane found in natural gas into liquid diesel fuel. Specifically the project seeks to significantly increase the amount of lipids produced by the microbe, and to develop novel catalytic technology to directly convert these lipids to liquid fuel. These engineered microbes could enable small-scale methane-to-liquid conversion at lower cost than conventional methods. Small-scale, microbe-based conversion would leverage abundant, domestic natural gas resources and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, UW's small-scale, microbe-based natural gas conversion process would enable natural gas resources typically too small for infrastructure investment cost-competitive with conventional methods.
Increasing the utility of geographically isolated natural gas reserves would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil by increasing the supply of domestically produced liquid fuels.
Globally, trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are emitted or "flared," during petroleum and natural gas refining. Reactors that capture and convert natural gas into liquid fuel would result in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from refineries.
Technologies capable of enabling methane economically viable as a feedstock for liquid fuels would decrease U.S. foreign oil imports.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Marc von Keitz
Project Contact: 
Dr. Mary Lidstrom
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
LanzaTech, Inc.
Johnson Mathey PLC
Release Date: