A third partner, Johnson-Matthey of the United Kingdom, will produce the catalysts that turn the lipids in the methane into fuel. And Illinois-based Lanza Tech, a pioneer in waste-to-fuels technology, has signed on to take the bench-scale plan to the commercial level, if it is successful.
"We'll be leveraging our decades of experience in producing biofuels and lipids, which in the past we've typically done via algae," said Phil Pienkos, NREL's principle investigator on the liquid to diesel project. "Here, we'll be applying it to a brand new feedstock, natural gas, which is recognized as being critically important to the United States."
The team will start with microorganisms that grow naturally on methane, a component of natural gas, and which have a natural ability to make lipids from the methane. Unfortunately, the enzymes can't naturally produce enough lipids to make a project economically feasible. So they need some help from genetics. A goal of this project is to genetically engineer that microorganism to both increase the amount of membrane lipids and to get the microorganism to produce non-phosphorous-based lipids that are more readily converted to fuels.
The end product would be a fuel intermediate that then could be piped to a refinery for final processing into diesel or jet fuel. "It would be a good feedstock for a refinery," Pienkos said.
ARPA-E's goal is to see the research projects turned into commercial successes, said Rich Bolin, Senior Project Leader for the Partnership Development Group at NREL's National Bioenergy Center.
"If things go well, at the
|Contact: David Glickson|
DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory