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Ann Arbor, Michigan
Project Term:
01/23/2014 - 03/06/2017

Technology Description:

The University of Michigan team will develop a biological approach to activate methane, the first step in creating a liquid fuel from natural gas. Current approaches to methane activation require the addition of oxygen and energy in the form of heat, which is inefficient and costly. The University of Michigan’s multidisciplinary team will engineer a methane-generating microorganism that can activate methane without the need for these additional inputs. The University of Michigan will use computer models to understand the processes on a molecular level and predict the structure of new enzymes and chemical interactions. Once modeled and engineered, the University of Michigan’s optimized organism and process would provide a way to produce butanol, a drop-in liquid fuel.

Potential Impact:

If successful, the University of Michigan’s biocatalyst will convert natural gas to a liquid fuel efficiently and cost-effectively at small scale, allowing for greater utilization of natural gas reserves as a fuel source.


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. Stephen Ragsdale
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of Washington
Institute for Systems Biology
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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