New Synthetic Catalysts for Methane Activation

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Evanston, Illinois
Project Term:
02/12/2014 - 11/15/2015

Technology Description:

Northwestern University and partners will leverage computational protein design to engineer and repurpose a natural catalyst to convert methane gas to liquid fuel. Current industrial processes to convert methane to liquid fuels are costly, or inefficient and wasteful. To address this, Northwestern University will alter natural catalysts to create versatile new protein catalysts that convert methane to methanol which can more easily integrate into fuel production pathways. Northwestern will also engineer an additional protein catalysts to couple, or join, two molecules of methane together, a process critical towards producing longer chain “hydrocarbons” similar to those found in gasoline. Northwestern University’s simplified catalysts will provide a better alternative to existing methane converting enzymes and can be incorporated into multiple types of processes.

Potential Impact:

If successful, Northwestern University’s synthetic catalysts could offer a way to inexpensively activate methane, a development that could provide an ideal process to make use of natural gas reserves in order to create liquid 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. Amy Rosenzweig
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Protabit LLC
California Institute of Technology

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