Microorganisms for Liquid Transportation Fuel

Transportation Fuels

Release Date:
Project Count:

Program Description:

ARPA-E's Electrofuels program is using microorganisms to create liquid transportation fuels in a new and different way that could be up to 10 times more energy efficient than current biofuel production methods. ARPA-E is the only U.S. government agency currently funding research on electrofuels.

Innovation Need:

Most biofuels are produced from plant material that is created through photosynthesis, a process that converts solar energy into stored chemical energy in plants. However, photosynthesis is an inefficient process, and the energy stored in plant material requires significant processing to produce biofuels. Current biofuel production methods are also intensive and require additional resources, such as water, fertilizer, and large areas of land to grow crops. Electrofuels bypass photosynthesis altogether by utilizing microorganisms that are self-reliant and don't need solar energy to grow or produce biofuels. These microorganisms can directly use energy from electricity and chemical compounds like hydrogen to produce liquid fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2). Because these microorganisms can directly use these energy sources, the overall efficiency of the fuel-creation process is higher than current biofuel production methods that rely on the more passive photosynthesis process. Scientists can also genetically modify the microorganisms to further improve the efficiency of energy conversion to liquid fuels. And, because electrofuels don't use photosynthesis, they don't require the prime agricultural land or water resources of current biofuels.

Potential Impact:

If successful, ARPA-E's electrofuels program would create liquid transportation fuels that are cost competitive with traditional gasoline-based fuels and10 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.


Program Director:
Dr. Ramon Gonzalez;Dr. Eric Rohlfing
Press and General Inquiries Email:

Project Listing

• Columbia University - Biofuels from Bacteria, Electricity, and CO2
• Ginkgo Bioworks - Biofuels from E. Coli
• Harvard University - Fuel from Bacteria, CO2, Water, and Solar Energy
• Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) - Turning Bacteria into Biofuel
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Liquid Fuel from Bacteria
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Natural Oil Production from Microorganisms
• Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) - Liquid Fuel from Microbial Communities
• North Carolina State University (NC State) - Liquid Fuel from Heat-Loving Microorganisms
• OPX Biotechnologies - Engineering Bacteria for Efficient Fuel Production
• Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) - Genetically Modified Bacteria for Fuel Production
• The Ohio State University - Fuel From Bacteria
• University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Liquid Fuel from Renewable Electricity and Bacteria
• University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass Amherst) - Biofuels from Solar Energy and Bacteria