Simmons said MOgene brings a great deal of organism expertise to the table, while Sandia offers enzyme engineering and other capabilities.
Improving upon nature to convert gaseous feedstocks
Using organisms to convert natural gas into liquid transportation fuels isn't a new objective for the research community, Simmons said. "There have been plenty of investigations into this in the past, since there are plenty of organisms in nature that thrive and survive and multiply off of natural gas metabolism. The problem, though, is that they exist in unique, tailored environments and are typically very slow at what they do," he said. ARPA-E's projects, he said, are hoping to improve upon "what nature has given us" and develop new, more efficient pathways to speed up the process and convert gaseous feedstocks at a pace and scale that is commercially viable. Currently, there are no proven biological methods for converting gaseous inputs such as natural gas into butanol.
"What we and others are doing is looking at the core metabolism of these microbes," Simmons said. "Then, we can either engineer it to make it faster in native organisms or we can take the metabolism out of those organisms and put it in something more industrially relevant."
Though the research community has wrestled with this problem before without much success, Simmons thinks Sandia is up to the task based on the labs' work with membrane proteins and various tools developed over the years.
"Time and time again, through internal investments
|Contact: Mike Janes|
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories