Development of a Bio-electrochemical Hybrid Fermentation Technology for the Carbon Conserving Production of Industrial Chemicals

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San Leandro,
Project Term:
08/17/2021 - 08/16/2023

Critical Need:

A robust and sustainable bioeconomy can only be realized through the industrial-scale, carbon-neutral synthesis of fuels, chemicals, and materials. Biofuels, along with a growing number of other sustainable products, are made almost exclusively via fermentation, the age-old technology used to produce foods such as wine, beer, and cheese. Current commercial methods to produce ethanol biofuel from sugar or starches waste more than 30% of the carbon in the feedstock as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the fermentation step alone. This waste limits product yields and squanders valuable feedstock carbon as greenhouse gas CO2. Preventing the loss of carbon as CO2 during bioconversion, or directly incorporating external CO2 as a feedstock into bioconversions, would revolutionize bioprocessing by increasing the product yield per unit of carbon input by more than 50%.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

ZymoChem has created fermentation processes that convert sugars into polymer precursors using microorganisms with novel enzyme-based pathways that avoid the loss of the sugar’s carbon as CO2. ZymoChem will develop two transformational innovations that combine (1) inexpensive metal catalysts from abundant metals for converting electricity and CO2 into formate and (2) electricity-compatible fermentation systems that enable microbes to co-utilize formate and sugars for the production of a high-volume platform fuel and chemical intermediate. The project team is engaged in a strong technology transfer and outreach effort, using techno-economic analyses to select which end products to pursue and defining operating parameters for the engineered systems. The synergy from the combined efforts has the potential to develop a transformative technology ready for near-term market adoption.

Potential Impact:

The application of biology to sustainable uses of waste carbon resources for the generation of energy, intermediates, and final products---i.e., supplanting the “bioeconomy”—provides economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits and offers a promising means of carbon management.


If successful, the new technologies are expected to catalyze new conversion platforms for biofuels and other high-volume bioproducts that are capable of promoting U.S. energy security by increasing recoverable product from the same mass of feedstock through the avoidance of wasting carbon in the form of CO2.


This program funds cutting-edge technologies to de-risk the engineering of carbon optimized bioconversion pathways capable of generating valuable bioproducts such as sustainable aviation fuel without emission of CO2 as a waste product.


The technologies funded by this program can increase the potential bioproduct output by more than 40% without requiring another square inch of land or pound of feedstock, while catalyzing the next generation of carbon optimized bio-based manufacturing.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. David Babson
Project Contact:
Dr. Jon Kuchenreuther
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of California, Davis

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