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Davis, California
Project Term:
01/07/2014 - 09/30/2017

Technology Description:

The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) will engineer new biological pathways for bacteria to convert ethylene to a liquid fuel. Currently, ethylene is readily available and used by the chemicals and plastics industries to produce a wide range of useful products, but it cannot be cost-effectively converted to a liquid fuel like butanol, an alcohol that can be used directly as part of a fuel blend. UC Davis is addressing this problem with synthetic biology and protein engineering. The team will engineer ethylene assimilation pathways into a host organism and use that organism to convert ethylene into n-butanol, an important platform chemical with broad applications in many chemical and fuel markets. This technology could provide a transformative route from methane to liquid biofuels that is more efficient than ones found in nature.

Potential Impact:

If successful, UC Davis’ new biocatalyst would enable cost-effective conversion of ethylene into an existing infrastructure-compatible fuel.


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. Shota Atsumi
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Project Contact Email:

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