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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

Fraunhofer developing process to ferment steel exhaust gases to fuels and chemicals

July 02, 2015

Fraunhofer researchers in Germany have developed a process for the conversion of CO-rich exhaust gases from steel plants into fuels and specialty chemicals. With the aid of genetically modified strains of Clostridium, the research team ferments the gas into alcohols and acetone, converts both substances catalytically into a kind of intermediary diesel product, and from produce kerosene and special chemicals.

Participants include the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Aachen, as well as the Institute for Environment, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen and the Institute for Chemical Technology ICT in Pfinztal. The technology came about during one of Fraunhofer’s internal preliminary research projects and through individual projects with industrial partners. The patented process currently operates on the laboratory scale.

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LanzaTech gas fermentation technology at core of €14.6M EU Steelanol project; 25K t/year demo plant

June 26, 2015

LanzaTech’s gas fermentation technology (earlier post) is at the core of the new Horizon2020 Steelanol project (2015-2018), which seeks to produce bioethanol via an innovative gas fermentation process using exhaust gases emitted by the steel industry. The €14.6-million (US$16.3-million) project is coordinated by steelmaker Arcelormittal Belgium NV.

Steelanol’s main objective is to demonstrate the cost-effective production of sustainable bioethanol, with the purpose of assessing the valorization of this ethanol biofuel as a fuel derivative for the transport sector. The project will build a demonstration plant of approximately 25,000 tons/ethanol per year—the first of its kind in Europe, and the largest facility globally built to date utilizing this technology.

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Volkswagen AG coordinating new €6M EU research project on drop-in biocatalytic solar fuels

Volkswagen AG is coordinating a new €6-million (US$6.7-million) research project, selected for funding under the Horizon 2020 Programme, to advance the biocatalytic production of drop-in liquid hydrocarbon transportation fuels, requiring only sunlight, CO2 and water.

The basic approach of the new 4-year Photofuel project is to develop and to advance microbes (the biocatalysts) that will directly excrete hydrocarbon and long-chain alcohol fuel compounds to the growth medium, from which the fuels are separated, without the need to harvest biomass. This basic concept is in line with the fundamental approach (CO2 + water + renewable energy → drop-in fuels) being taken by Audi (a member of the Volkswagen Group) in its e-fuels initiatives. (Earlier post.)

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Joule issued patent on production of medium chain-length alkanes from sunlight and CO2; diesel, jet fuel and gasoline

June 16, 2015

Joule, the developer of engineered photosynthetic bacteria as catalysts for the direct production of targeted fuel molecules in a continuous, single-step conversion process, announced the issuance of an additional patent, extending its ability to target the highest-value molecules of the petroleum distillation process and generate them on demand from sunlight and CO2.

US Patent Nº 9,034,629, issued on 19 May, covers both the cyanobacterium and the process for directly converting CO2 into medium chain-length alkanes (C7-11), which are in the diesel, jet fuel and gasoline ranges.

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New yeast engineered by BESC, Mascoma could accelerate production of cellulosic ethanol

June 04, 2015

Consolidated bioprocessing technology company Mascoma LLC and the US Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have developed a new strain of yeast that could help significantly accelerate the development of biofuels from nonfood plant matter. The new C5 FUEL yeast delivers fermentation and ethanol yields that set a new standard for conversion of biomass sugars from pretreated corn stover, converting up to 97% of the plant sugars into fuel, the researchers said.

While conventional yeast leaves more than one-third of the biomass sugars unused in the form of xylose, Mascoma’s C5 FUEL efficiently converts this xylose into ethanol, and it accomplishes this feat in less than 48 hours. The results were presented at the 31st International Fuel Ethanol Workshop this week in Minneapolis.

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WSU team engineers fungus to produce jet-range hydrocarbons from biomass

May 06, 2015

Carb3
Aspergillus carbonarius. Source: JGI MycoCosm. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Washington State University have engineered the filamentous fungus Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to produce jet-range hydrocarbons directly from biomass. The researchers hope the work, reported in the journal Fungal Biology, leads to economically viable production of aviation biofuels in the next five years.

The team led by Birgitte Ahring, director and Battelle distinguished professor of the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at WSU Tri-cities, found that the production of hydrocarbons was dependent on the type of media used. Therefore, they tested ten different carbon sources (oatmeal, wheat bran, glucose, carboxymethyl cellulose, avicel, xylan, corn stover, switch grass, pretreated corn stover, and pretreated switch grass) to identify the maximum number and quantity of hydrocarbons produced.

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China Steel Corporation making $46M investment in LanzaTech commercial waste-gas-to-ethanol project

April 22, 2015

Taiwan’s largest integrated steel maker, China Steel Corporation (CSC), has announced formal Board approval of a 1400-million TWD (US$46 million) capital investment in a LanzaTech commercial ethanol facility. This follows the successful demonstration of the carbon recycling platform at the White Biotech (WBT) Demonstration Plant in Kaohsiung using steel mill off gases for ethanol production.

LanzaTech’s gas fermentation process uses proprietary microbes to capture and reuse carbon rich waste gases, reducing emissions and pollutants from industrial processes such as steel manufacturing, while making fuels and chemicals that displace those made from fossil resources. (Earlier post.)

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Researchers engineer new pathway in E. coli to produce renewable propane

April 15, 2015

Researchers at The University of Manchester, Imperial College London and University of Turku have made an advance toward the renewable biosynthesis of propane with the creation of a new synthetic pathway in E. coli, based on a fermentative butanol pathway. An open access paper on the work is published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.

In 2014, members of the team from Imperial College and the University of Turku had devised a synthetic metabolic pathway for producing renewable propane from engineered E. coli bacteria, using pathways based on fatty acid synthesis. (Earlier post.) Although the initial yields were far too low for commercialization, the team was able to identify and to add essential biochemical components in order to boost the biosynthesis reaction, enabling the E. coli strain to increase propane yield. Yields, however, were still too low.

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UC Berkeley hybrid semiconductor nanowire-bacteria system for direct solar-powered production of chemicals from CO2 and water

April 10, 2015

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed an artificial photosynthetic scheme for the direct solar-powered production of value-added chemicals from CO2 and water using a two-step process involving a biocompatible light-capturing nanowire array with a direct interface with microbial systems.

As a proof of principle, they demonstrated that, using only solar energy input, such a hybrid semiconductor nanowire–bacteria system can reduce CO2 at neutral pH to a wide array of chemical targets, such as fuels, polymers, and complex pharmaceutical precursors A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

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Virginia Tech team engineers optimized synthetic enzymatic pathway for high-yield production of H2 directly from biomass

April 07, 2015

A team of Virginia Tech researchers and colleagues has demonstrated the complete conversion of glucose and xylose from pretreated plant biomass to H2 and CO2 based on an in vitro synthetic enzymatic pathway crafted from more than 10 purified enzymes. Glucose and xylose were simultaneously converted to H2 with a yield of two H2 per carbon, the maximum possible yield.

The researchers used a nonlinear kinetic model fitted with experimental data to identify the enzymes that had the greatest impact on reaction rate and yield. After optimizing enzyme loadings using this model, volumetric H2 productivity was increased 3-fold to 32 mmol H2⋅L−1⋅h−1. The productivity was further enhanced to 54 mmol H2⋅L−1⋅h−1 by increasing reaction temperature, substrate, and enzyme concentrations—an increase of 67-fold compared with the initial studies using this method.

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UT Austin researchers significantly boost yield and speed of lipids production from engineered yeast; more efficient biofuel production

March 24, 2015

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have used a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution to develop a new strain of the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica featuring significantly enhanced lipids production that could lead to a more efficient biofuel production process. Their findings were published online in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

Beyond biofuels, the new yeast strain could be used in biochemical production to produce oleochemicals, chemicals traditionally derived from plant and animal fats and petroleum, which are used to make a variety of household products.

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A*STAR team combines fungal culture and acid hydrolyses for cost-effective production of fermentable sugars from palm oil waste

March 16, 2015

Researchers from A*STAR in Singapore have developed a fungal culture for use in a cheap and efficient method to transform waste oil palm material into biofuels and environmentally friendly plastics.

After the harvest of the fruit from oil palm trees, large amounts of leftover biomass known as empty fruit bunch remain. The industry wants to use these leftover fruit bunches to produce bioethanol and biodegradable plastic, but has stumbled in their efforts to convert the leftovers in a cost-efficient way. The new fungal culture could make it possible to produce fermentable sugars from this huge amount of waste in a cost-effective way, thereby increasing its commercial value, said one of the lead researchers, Jin Chuan Wu, from the A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences.

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New engineered metabolic pathways in yeast enable efficient fermentation of xylose from biomass

March 05, 2015

Researchers with the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership that includes Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, have introduced new metabolic pathways from the fungus Neurospora crassa into the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to increase the fermentative production of fuels and other chemicals from biomass. An open access paper on the work is publised in the journal eLife.

While S. cerevisiae is the industry mainstay for fermenting sugar from cornstarch and sugarcane into ethanol, it requires substantial engineering to ferment sugars derived from plant cell walls such as cellobiose and xylose. The new metabolic pathways enable the yeast to ferment sugars from both cellulose (glucose) and hemicellulose (xylose)—the two major families of sugar found in the plant cell wall—efficiently, without the need of environmentally harsh pre-treatments or expensive enzyme cocktails.

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Researchers identify peptide to bind LMNO to improve power and performance of cathodes in Li-ion batteries

February 12, 2015

Researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) have isolated a peptide, a type of biological molecule, which binds strongly to lithium manganese nickel oxide (LMNO), a material that can be used to make the cathode in high-performance Li-ion batteries. The peptide can latch onto nanosized particles of LMNO and connect them to conductive components of a battery electrode, improving the potential power and stability of the electrode.

The researchers presented their results at the 59th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society, held 7-11 Feb.in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Engineered yeast produces ethanol from three important cellulosic biomass components simultaneously; higher yields, lower cost

February 11, 2015

A team led by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana−Champaign has, for the first time, integrated the fermentation pathways of both hexose and pentose sugars from biomass as well as an acetic acid reduction pathway into one strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae using synthetic biology and metabolic engineering approaches.

The engineered strain co-utilized cellobiose, xylose, and acetic acid to produce ethanol with a substantially higher yield and productivity than the control strains. The results showed the unique synergistic effects of pathway coexpression, the team reported in a paper in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

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Researchers use DNA to stabilize sulfur cathode for high-performance Li-sulfur batteries

February 10, 2015

Li
DNA has a high concentration of heteroatoms, including oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus, that can anchor soluble polysulfides to improve the cycling performance of Li/S batteries. Li et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from the China University of Geosciences has taken a novel approach to stabilizing Lithium-sulfur batteries by functionalizing the carbon-sulfur cathode with DNA.

Experimental results reported in a paper accepted for publication in the RSC Journal of Materials Chemistry A showed that adding a fine adding amount of DNA into a carbon/sulfur composite enables a significant improvement to cyclic performance by anchoring the soluble polysulfides that lead to performance degradation. The DNA-decorated electrode offered a discharge capacity of 771 mAh·g-1 at 0.1 C after 200 cycles (retention 70.7% of the initial)—a three-fold enhancement in capacity retention over 200 cycles.

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Harvard hybrid “bionic leaf” converts solar energy to liquid fuel isopropanol

Scientists from a team spanning Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a scalable, integrated bioelectrochemical system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel. Their work integrates water-splitting catalysts comprising earth-abundant components with wild-type and engineered Ralstonia eutropha bacteria to generate biomass and isopropyl alcohol. An open access paper describing their work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at HMS and an author of the paper, calls the system a bionic leaf, a nod to the solar water-splitting artificial leaf invented by the paper’s senior author, Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University. (Earlier post.)

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Researchers discover bacteria could be rich source of terpenes

December 24, 2014

Researchers at Kitasato University in Japan, Brown University in the US, and colleagues in Japan have found that bacteria could be a rich source of terpenes—natural compounds common in plants and fungi that can be used to make drugs, food additives, perfumes, and other products, including advanced fuels (earlier post, earlier post).

Terpenes are responsible for the essential oils of plants and the resins of trees. Since the discovery of terpenes more than 150 years ago, scientists have isolated some 50,000 different terpene compounds derived from plants and fungi. Bacteria and other microorganisms are known to make terpenes too, but they’ve received much less study. The new research, published in an open access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the genetic capacity of bacteria to make terpenes is widespread.

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DOE JBEI team boosts methyl ketone production from E. coli 160-fold; advanced biofuel or blendstock

December 02, 2014

In 2012, researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) engineered Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria to overproduce from glucose saturated and monounsaturated aliphatic methyl ketones in the C11 to C15 (diesel) range from glucose. In subsequent tests, these methyl ketones yielded high cetane numbers, making them promising candidates for the production of advanced biofuels or blendstocks. (Earlier post.)

Now, after further genetic modifications of the bacteria, they have managed to boost the E.coli’s methyl ketone production 160-fold. A paper describing this work is published in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

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UCLA researchers develop synthetic biocatalytic pathway for more efficient conversion of methanol to longer-chain fuels

November 18, 2014

Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science led by Dr. James Liao have developed a more efficient way to turn methanol into useful chemicals, such as liquid fuels, and that would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The UCLA team constructed a synthetic biocatalytic pathway that efficiently converts methanol under room temperature and ambient atmospheric pressures to higher-chain alcohols or other higher carbon compounds without carbon loss or ATP expenditure.

Building off their previous work in creating a new synthetic metabolic pathway for breaking down glucose that could lead to a 50% increase in the production of biofuels (earlier post), the researchers modified the non-oxidative glycolysis pathway to utilize methanol instead of sugar. An open-access paper on the research was published in the 11 Nov. edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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JBEI researchers boost isopentenol output from E. coli; potential benefit for bio-gasoline

October 27, 2014

Researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have identified microbial genes that can improve both the tolerance and the production of isopentanol in engineered strains of Escherichia coli. Isopentenol is a five-carbon (C5) alcohol that is a highly promising candidate for biogasoline, but, like other short-chained alcohols, is toxic to E.coli at commercial levels of fuel production.

Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, a chemist who directs the host engineering program for JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division, led a study in which transcriptomic data and a synthetic metabolic pathway were used to identify several genes that not only improve tolerance but also production of isopentenol in E.coli. MetR, the methionine biosynthesis regulator, improved the titer for isopentenol production by 55%, while MdlB, the ABC transporter, facilitated a 12% improvement in isopentenol production.

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Solazyme and Amyris receive Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge awards

October 16, 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the 5 winners of the 2014 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, including biotechnology companies Amyris and Solazyme, Inc. Solazyme received the award for Greener Synthetic Pathways for its tailored oils produced from microalgal fermentation. Amyris received the Small Business award for its renewable hydrocarbon farnesane for use as diesel and jet fuel.

Amyris has engineered yeast to make the hydrocarbon farnesene via fermentation instead of ethanol. Farnesene is a building block hydrocarbon that can be converted into a renewable, drop-in replacement for petroleum diesel without certain drawbacks of first-generation biofuels. A recent lifecycle analysis estimated an 82% reduction in GHG emissions for farnesane, compared with the EPA baseline fossil diesel—including indirect effects.

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BNL team devises new method to boost oil accumulation in plant leaves; implications for biofuel production

October 08, 2014

Researchers at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) have developed a new method to increase significantly the amount of oil accumulated in plant leaves, which could then serve as a source for biofuel production. Rather than adding genes, as some other research teams have done in their efforts to boost oil accumulation, the BNL method is based on is based on disabling or inactivating genes through simple mutations.

A series of detailed genetic studies revealed previously unknown biochemical details about plant metabolic pathways, including new ways to increase the accumulation of oil in leaves. Using these methods, the scientists grew experimental Arabidopsis plants (widely used as model organisms in plant biology), the leaves of which accumulated 9 wt % oil. This represented an approximately 150-fold increase in oil content compared to wild type leaves. A paper on their work is published in the journal The Plant Cell.

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Researchers enhance yeast thermotolerance and ethanol tolerance; potential for significant impact on industrial biofuel production

October 03, 2014

The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae plays a central role in global biofuel production; currently, about 100 billion liters of ethanol are produced annually worldwide by fermentation of mainly sugarcane saccharose and corn starch by the yeast. There are also efforts underway to use the yeast with cellulosic biomass.

Boosting the yield and lowering the cost of fermentative production of biofuel would not only result in a significant immediate financial impact to commercial ethanol operations, but also support cost reductions that would be helpful to advance other advanced biofuels using the same or a similar pathway. However, boosting production has been gated by two key conditions: the ability of the yeast to tolerate higher temperatures, and the ability of the yeast to survive high concentrations of ethanol. Now, two new separate studies report progress on each of those fronts; the findings could have a significant impact on industrial biofuel production. Both papers are published in the current issue of the journal Science.

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ARPA-E to award $60M to 2 programs: enhancing biomass yield and dry-cooling for thermoelectric power

October 02, 2014

Phenotypingvision
ARPA-E’s vision of advanced phenotyping to enhance biomass yield. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will award up to $60 million to two new programs ($30 million each). The Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) program (DE-FOA-0001211) seeks to accelerate biomass yield gains (especially energy sorghum) through automated, predictive and systems-level approaches to biofuel crop breeding. The Advanced Research In Dry cooling (ARID) program (DE-FOA-0001197) aims to develop low-cost, highly efficient and scalable dry-cooling technologies for thermoelectric power plants.

TERRA. ARPA-E posited that there is an urgent need to accelerate energy crop development for the production of renewable transportation fuels from biomass. While recent advances in technology has enabled the extraction of massive volumes of genetic, physiological, and environmental data from certain crops, the data still cannot be processed into the knowledge needed to predict crop performance in the field. This knowledge is required to improve the breeding development pipeline for energy crops.

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German researchers boost algal hydrogen production five-fold using metabolic engineering approach

September 25, 2014

Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Energy Conversion and Coal Research and from the research group Photobiotechnology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have discovered a way of increasing the efficiency of hydrogen production in microalgae by a factor of five by using a combined metabolic engineering approach. An open access paper on their work is published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The genetic modifications resulting in the enhanced light-driven hydrogen production opens new avenues for the design of H2-producing organisms, which might lead to the design of an economically competitive hydrogen producing organism, the researchers suggest.

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Researchers successfully engineer E. coli to produce renewable propane; proof-of-concept

September 03, 2014

Researchers from the University of Turku in Finland, Imperial College London and University College London have devised a synthetic metabolic pathway for producing renewable propane from engineered E. coli bacteria. Propane, which has an existing global market for applications including engine fuels and heating, is currently produced as a by-product during natural gas processing and petroleum refining. A paper on their work is published in Nature Communications.

The new pathway is based on a thioesterase specific for butyryl-acyl carrier protein (ACP), which allows native fatty acid biosynthesis of the Escherichia coli host to be redirected towards a synthetic alkane pathway. ​Although the initial yields were low, the team was able to identify and to add essential biochemical components in order to boost the biosynthesis reaction, enabling a the E. coli strain to increase propane yield, although the amounts are still far too low for commercialization.

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DOE, USDA awarding $12.6M to 10 biomass genomics research projects for improved biofuels

July 17, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have selected 10 projects that will receive funding aimed at accelerating genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstocks for the production of biofuels, biopower, and bio-based products.

The $12.6 million in research grants are awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing nonfood plant biomass for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Dedicated feedstock crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.

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Calysta reports 8-fold improvement in gas fermentation in ARPA-E program; BioGTL

July 10, 2014

Calysta, Inc. reported that it has achieved 8-fold improved performance over traditional fermentation technologies in a high mass transfer bioreactor. The bioreactor technology is under development for efficient methane-to-liquids fermentation processes, enabling rapid, cost-effective methane conversion into protein, industrial chemicals and fuels. (Earlier post.)

The improved performance was achieved in the research phase of a program funded in part by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program under the REMOTE program (Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy), awarded in September 2013. (Earlier post.) Calysta develops sustainable industrial products using novel natural gas conversion technology using methane.

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