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Sunlight-Assisted Methane Conversion

MOgene Green Chemicals
ARPA-E Award: 
Saint Louis, MO
Project Term: 
01/01/2014 to 06/30/2017
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Image of MOgene's technology
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: 
MOgene Green Chemicals will engineer a photosynthetic organism for methane conversion that can use energy from both methane and sunlight. The first step in aerobic biological activation of methane requires oxygen and the introduction of energy in the form of heat. Organisms that use methane typically do so through a process that creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, losing energy-rich carbon molecules in the process. To address this, MOgene will engineer a "phototrophic" organism to convert methane that is capable of deriving additional energy from sunlight. This will allow the organism to naturally provide oxygen needed for methane conversion while recapturing any carbon dioxide that would have been released in the process. Consequently, MOgene's technology would be a more efficient and cost-effective way to activate methane, while producing n-butanol, a liquid fuel precursor.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, MOgene will develop a low-carbon-emissions technology that produces a liquid fuel from natural gas and sunlight through efficient, low-cost biological conversion.
An improved bioconversion process could create cost-competitive liquid fuels significantly reducing demand for foreign oil.
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.
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.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Marc von Keitz
Project Contact: 
Dr. Abhay Singh
Sandia National Laboratory
Release Date: