Biofuel from Bacteria and Sunlight

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OPEN 2009
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Project Term:
01/01/2010 - 08/31/2012

Technology Description:

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing clean-burning, liquid hydrocarbon fuels from bacteria. UMN is finding ways to continuously harvest hydrocarbons from a type of bacteria called Shewanella by using a photosynthetic organism to constantly feed Shewanella the sugar it needs for energy and hydrocarbon production. The two organisms live and work together as a system. Using Shewanella to produce hydrocarbon fuels offers several advantages over traditional biofuel production methods. First, it eliminates many of the time-consuming and costly steps involved in growing plants and harvesting biomass. Second, hydrocarbon biofuels resemble current petroleum-based fuels and would therefore require few changes to the existing fuel refining and distribution infrastructure in the U.S.

Potential Impact:

If successful, UMN would produce a biofuel that can easily integrate into the existing transportation fuel infrastructure.


Increasing production of domestic biofuels could help the U.S. cut foreign oil imports by 33% in 15 years.


This project could create a carbon-neutral system by recycling carbon dioxide from fuel combustion back into a fuel. It also requires none of the intensive farming practices or land associated with current biofuel crops.


Widespread use of biofuels could help reduce and stabilize gasoline prices for consumers.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Jonathan Burbaum
Project Contact:
Prof. Lawrence Wackett
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:



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