Biofuel from Bacteria and Sunlight

Biofuel from Bacteria and Sunlight

OPEN 2009
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Project Term:
01/01/2010 - 08/31/2012

Critical Need:

Direct solar fuel technologies use photosynthetic microorganisms to produce liquid fuels directly from solar energy. Many photosynthetic microorganisms already produce fuels and fuel precursors, such as fatty acids and hydrocarbons. The challenge is finding cost-effective ways for the microorganisms to efficiently produce these fuels in large quantities and in forms that can be easily incorporated into the existing transportation fuel infrastructure. Meeting this challenge is critical because it would help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and limit harmful emissions from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing clean-burning, liquid hydrocarbon fuels from bacteria. UMN is finding ways to continuously harvest hydrocarbons from a type of bacteria called Shewanella by using a photosynthetic organism to constantly feed Shewanella the sugar it needs for energy and hydrocarbon production. The two organisms live and work together as a system. Using Shewanella to produce hydrocarbon fuels offers several advantages over traditional biofuel production methods. First, it eliminates many of the time-consuming and costly steps involved in growing plants and harvesting biomass. Second, hydrocarbon biofuels resemble current petroleum-based fuels and would therefore require few changes to the existing fuel refining and distribution infrastructure in the U.S.

Potential Impact:

If successful, UMN would produce a biofuel that can easily integrate into the existing transportation fuel infrastructure.


Increasing production of domestic biofuels could help the U.S. cut foreign oil imports by 33% in 15 years.


This project could create a carbon-neutral system by recycling carbon dioxide from fuel combustion back into a fuel. It also requires none of the intensive farming practices or land associated with current biofuel crops.


Widespread use of biofuels could help reduce and stabilize gasoline prices for consumers.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Jonathan Burbaum
Project Contact:
Prof. Lawrence Wackett
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:



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