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Converting natural gas to liquid transportation fuels via biological organisms
Date:11/18/2013

LIVERMORE, Calif. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories will use their expertise in protein expression, enzyme engineering and high-throughput assays as part of a multiproject, $34 million effort by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) aimed at developing advanced biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel for transportation.

The ARPA-E program is Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy, REMOTE, and involves 15 different projects. Sandia is a part of a two-year award led by MOgene Green Chemicals, a wholly owned subsidiary of St. Louis-based MOgene, LC, and will work toward sunlight-assisted conversion of methane to butanol.

The broad goal is to have another source of energy in the U.S. that doesn't have to be imported and could lead to lower carbon monoxide emissions than conventional fossil fuels.

Methanotrophs are microbes that can metabolize methane. Sandia's Blake Simmons, manager of the labs' biofuels and biomaterial science and technology group, calls this microbe the "poster child" of organisms that are capable of metabolizing and converting methane. The goal of the project is to engineer pathways from these organisms into another microbial host that can generate butanol. Butanol can be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine and, along with ethanol, has long been considered one of the best biofuel options for transportation energy.

"The need for hydrocarbons that are nonpetroleum in origin is still growing, including applications such as aviation and diesel engines," said Simmons. "But in its natural state, you're not going to readily burn natural gas in those types of engines, and the same goes for some combustion engines." Natural gas, he explains, requires a special modification to be used effectively as a liquid fuel in vehicles, much like biomass needs to be converted before it can be used as a drop-in fuel.

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Contact: Mike Janes
mejanes@sandia.gov
925-294-2447
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories
Source:Eurekalert  

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