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Calysta Energy engineering organisms to convert methane to low-cost liquid hydrocarbons; BioGTL process

Calysta is using its proprietary BioGTL biological gas-to-liquids platform to convert natural gas to liquid hydrocarbons. Click to enlarge.

Start-up Calysta Energy plans to use methane as a feedstock for engineered organisms to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels and high value chemicals that are cost-effective, scalable and reduce environmental impact.

Current technology approaches to creating new fuels and chemicals have failed to achieve necessary market economics, creating a significant worldwide market opportunity, according to the biotech company. Calysta says that in contrast to current algae- and sugar-based methods, a methane-based biofuel platform is expected to produce fuel at less than half the cost of other biological methods, allowing direct competition with petroleum-based fuels.

Methanotrophs are bacteria that can use methane as a sole carbon and energy source for growth; however, it wasn’t until 2004 that the first complete genome sequence from an obligate methanotroph, Methylococcus capsulatus (Bath) (which is featured on Calysta’s website) was obtained (Ward et al.). One of the most surprising outcomes of the project, Ward et al. noted in their paper published in PLoS Biology, was evidence suggesting the existence of previously unsuspected metabolic flexibility in M. capsulatus.

Calysta is applying its expertise in biocatalysis, synthetic biology and advanced bioengineering process design to develop bio-based processes (biological gas-to-liquids, BioGTL) that will operate more cheaply and efficiently than chemical processes. Calysta will use proprietary genetic optimization algorithms to enable the efficient development of bacteria which can convert methane to a variety of alkane fuels.

Comparison of biofuel platform efficiency
(source: Calysta Energy)
Carbon feedstock MW %C Conversion method Theoretical diesel yield (g/g)
CO2 44 27 Photosynthesis 21%
Sugar/biomass ~180 40% Fermentation 31%
Pyrolysis 47%
CH4 16 75% Fermentation 59%

The company was formed in 2011 as a spinout of DNA2.0, the largest US-based provider of synthetic genes for industrial and academic customers. Calysta leverages extensive expertise in protein engineering, gene synthesis and gene expression optimization to create advanced molecular biology tools able to engineer novel production organisms which enable process technology.

The company’s GPS Bioengineering Platform uses customized algorithms and other advanced tools to quickly convert candidate DNA sequences to testable genes.

  • PhyloGPS. The Phylo GPS process enables rapid identification of a starting enzyme to serve as a basis for subsequent protein engineering activities. Researchers using this process to rapidly mine large genome databases for high potential subsets of candidate genes, enabling efficient synthesis and testing.

  • GeneGPS. The GeneGPS™ codon optimization methodology allows for efficient and predictable expression of heterologous genes in a target host. This technology is critical for functional testing of mined sequences and building synthetic pathways in industrial host organisms.

  • ProteinGPS. The Protein GPS protein engineering system designs proteins with specific, commercially-relevant characteristics. Using key amino acid substitutions, bioinformatics-based mining of available sequence space and advanced machine-learning algorithms, the system obtains significant performance improvements in target protein sequences from sample sizes considerably smaller than those required with conventional directed evolution methods.

  • PathwayGPS. The Pathway GPS system builds on other GPS systems to create functionally improved genetic pathways. Using Calysta’s low-cost, high capacity gene synthesis technology, multi-component multi-gene pathways demonstrating optimal industrial-scale performance can be produced with a minimum number of assays.

Alan Shaw, Ph.D, a veteran industrial biotechnology executive, is leading the Calysta team as Chairman, President and CEO, partnered with Josh Silverman, Ph.D., an innovative technology leader with broad experience in biotechnology startup ventures, as Chief Scientific Officer. Dr. Shaw joins Calysta from a decade as President and CEO of Codexis, a developer of cost-advantaged processes for biochemical, biofuel and pharmaceutical production with global customers including Merck, Pfizer, Chemtex and Raizen. Dr. Silverman, who is also co-founder, established and led R&D partnerships and product development collaborations for five biotechnology companies, including Avidia through acquisition by Amgen.




Are they the ones that will start to sell synthetic gasoline one day. It's been the 100th time that i heard something like that. It's the time to start as nat gas prices are low and gasoline price are high so the profit can be huge. Why this article still show experiment results instead of commercial results. Wake me up when someone start selling a new product and i will buy thereafter. We are late on commercialisation.


Converting methane to liquid fuels is possible but why would you do it? Its like going from Los Angeles to New York by travelling west, possible but pointless.

Far better to use the methane for all transportation in CNG/LNG vehicles..if you do this, there is no shortage of oil for chemicals and other things where oil is needed.

By 2030 most vehicles should and will run on natural gas, thanks to shale gas


what is the efficiency compared with a Fischer–Tropsch process?

Henry Gibson

Methane can be made into a mix of hydrogen and CO or CO2 with the addition of very hot steam or just oxygen. These gases can be used to feed ethanol yeasts or just turned into methanol. The immediate partial oxidation of methane to methanol has been proposed and partially demonstrated but converting hydrogen and carbon monoxide to methanol is a widely used process. Methanol can be converted into petrol with simple catalysts but not to diesel or jet fuel. Both the long distance freight industry and railroads should be converted to LNG or CNG. Stirling cryo-coolers can now be used to supply LNG and CNG in very large and small sizes and keep LNG cold. Artemis Digital Displacement hybrid vehicles can reduce fuel consumption to only one half but at least by one third which eliminates all needs for bio fuels.

Synfuel factories should be built by the thousands to use coal to make jet fuel or diesel when natural gas is in short supply. Ethane is a highly neglected fuel since it is used to make many tons of plastics.

Pruteen was once made from north sea gas in the UK for cattle feed, Quorn is a bioproduced protein for humans made from sugars which can be made from methane. Pet food was made from north sea gas in Norway, and in the US in the 1950s and 1960s petroleum companies were considering food made by organisms from petroleum when oil was cheaper than food.

There is a history of organism produced or modified foodstuffs since before agriculture was invented, beer, cheese, brewers yeast, marmite, bovril, sauerkraut, wine, cider etc. Beer has been made from wood.

Ruminants can digest even pure cotton for energy to make milk and meats, and ammonia can provide nitrogen.

Genetically modify organisms to make paraffin from methane and air without much attention in small containers and you are in business. No more gas flares in oil fields. Cerametec has a process to add methane to bitumens and other heavy oils with sodium catalysts to make lighter oils. They can regenerate or produce the sodium with energy from small gas turbines, and eliminate flares. There is probably salt water with the crude oils produced for the sodium. ..HG..

Henry Gibson

All new spark ignition and diesel engined vehicles should have a computer and engine designed for dual fuel operation with LPG, CNG or LNG and only tanks and regulators need to be added. Diesel versions at least will only run with the CNG supplanting part of the diesel. ..HG..

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