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:
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is genetically engineering a bacterium called Methylococcus in order to produce an enzyme that binds methane with a common fuel precursor to create a liquid fuel. This process relies on methylation, a reaction that requires no oxygen or energy inputs but has never been applied to methane conversion.” First, LBNL will construct a unique enzyme called a “PEP methylase” from an existing enzyme. The team will then bioengineer new metabolic pathways for assimilating methane and conversion to liquid fuels.
If successful, LBNL’s process will enable low-cost, energy-efficient fuel production from methane found in natural gas creating a new industry for liquid fuel conversion of natural gas, methane waste streams, and biogas.
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.