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:
Oregon State University (OSU) will develop a small-scale bioreactor that can enable high-rate, low cost bioconversion of methane to liquid fuel. Current systems to convert methane using microorganisms can be slow and inefficient due to the low rate at which methane gas and nutrients are transferred to biocatalysts as well as the build-up of toxins that affect the health of biocatalysts. Using an ultra-thin, stacked "Bio-Lamina-Plate" system OSU will attempt to improve the overall rate at which methane is transferred to the biocatalysts. This new reactor design also helps to improve the rate at which oxygen is provided and products are removed from the system. The reactor design improves the amount of surface exposed relative to the volume of biofilm and provides better heat transfer to improve overall reactor efficiency. Unlike reactors build using stainless steel, OSU’s reactor may use low-cost materials such as plastic and glass, as well as simple fabrication techniques to reduce the bioreactor manufacturing costs.
If successful, OSU’s new bioreactor design will provide a low-cost solution to small-scale, efficient gas-to-liquid 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.