Consortium Wins $2.2M ARPA-E Award for Direct Solar Bio-Hydrocarbon Fuel Research; Biocatalytic Coatings Using Bacteria Embedded in Latex
A consortium comprising researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, with BioCee, a University of Minnesota start-up company as the commercialization partner, has been awarded $2.2 million from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program for a research proposal to use bacteria to produce bio-hydrocarbon fuels from CO2 and sunlight. (Earlier post.)
The consortium proposes to use an innovative artificial symbiotic colony of photosynthetic bacteria with Shewanella, a hydrocarbon-producing bacteria. The photosynthetic organisms will use sunlight to convert CO2 to sugar, which the Shewanella will then convert to bio-hydrocarbons. The bioreactor will use biocatalytic coatings—bacteria embedded in a thin latex coating.
The innovative process aimed at producing hydrocarbon fuel combines the work of several University of Minnesota faculty. Michael Flickinger, a former College of Biological Sciences professor, and the late L. E. (Skip) Scriven, an Institute of Technology professor, devised the latex coating technology. BioCee, a Twin Cities start-up company, has exclusively licensed the coating technology IP from the U of M and is developing it for commercial applications.
Lead investigator Larry Wackett, University Distinguished McKnight Professor in the College of Biological Sciences, is working with faculty from the BioTechnology Institute; Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics; Department of Microbiology; and the Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.
BioCee’s latex, thin-film coatings—originally developed by Prof. Michael Flickinger while at the University of Minnesota—maintain our unique biocatalysts in a healthy, stable, and productive state. The goal is to build an integrated reactor system that very efficiently converts CO2 into biofuel.
—Professor Larry Wackett
BioCee’s patented biocoating technology immobilizes bacteria in thin, self-adhesive, nano-structured latex coatings. These coatings allow a 500- to 1000-fold concentration of the biocatalytic organisms and enable dramatic process intensification, according to the company. The coatings are only 30-100 µm thick with the ability to engineer their porosity, enhancing mass transfer to allow all microorganisms to contribute to the process. This technology has been patented (Patent US07132247) by the University of Minnesota, which has granted BioCee the exclusive rights to this patent.
This month, BioCee also received a Small Business Innovative Research award by the National Science Foundation (NSF - SBIR) in the amount of $150,000. NSF awards SBIR grants to small businesses for novel research with a potential for commercialization.
Wackett brings expertise on the biochemistry of hydrocarbon biosynthesis. Jeffrey Gralnick (BioTechnology Institute and Department of Microbiology) contributes extensive knowledge of Shewanella, the organism used to produce hydrocarbons. Lanny Schmidt and Aditya Bahn (Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science) will investigate the conversion of the bio-hydrocarbons into gasoline and diesel fuels.
The U of M scientists will collaborate with researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), who bring expertise at using blue-green algae to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and culture it with Shewanella bacteria to produce hydrocarbons. The grant will be used to integrate the expertise of the group to develop a new and scalable technology for producing bio-hydrocarbons as fuels.
(Separately, PNNL is also a member of the Shewanella Federation, a cross-institution consortium consisting of teams of scientists from academia, national laboratories, and private industry working collaboratively to achieve a systems-level understanding of how Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 (S. oneidensis) senses and responds to its environment, with a specific focus on the use of this organism in bioremediation.)
The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), a program of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, provided early-stage support and matching funds of more than $300,000 to support the project (#LG-B13-2005). The Biocatalysis Initiative, administered by the University’s BioTechnology Institute, also provided support.