Development of Carbon-Conserving Biosynthetic Systems Co-Utilizing C1 and Biomass Derived Feedstocks

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San Leandro,
Project Term:
08/20/2021 - 02/19/2024

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 will develop carbon- and energy-efficient biocatalysts capable of co-conversion of one-carbon molecules and biomass-derived substrates to a high-volume platform fuel and chemical intermediate. The team will demonstrate a carbon-conserving process decoupling growth and production. Most bioprocesses using microbes and renewable feedstocks to make fuels and chemicals are unprofitable, precluding their adoption on the industrial scale. When most microbes convert renewable feedstocks to fuels and industrial chemicals, they waste more than 33% of the input carbon in the form of CO2 during production. The process will enable improved carbon efficiency during the growth phase and 100% carbon-efficient production of bioproducts during the production phase, using biomass-derived sugars and methanol as a reducing equivalent carrier. If successful, this project will create a new foundation for commercially attractive carbon-efficient bioprocesses.

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:
Harshal Chokhawala
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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