Disruptive Technology for Carbon Negative Commodity Biochemicals

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Project Term:
09/01/2021 - 08/31/2023

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:

Stanford University is developing a commercially attractive, scalable, carbon-negative technology for producing commodity biochemicals. Glucose, carbon dioxide (CO2), and electricity will provide the required atoms and energy for carbon-negative, energy-positive production. Instead of releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, this new approach will enable use of atmospheric CO2 and glucose obtained from cornstarch to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. The benchmark product will be succinic acid, an established bioproduct with applications in alkyd resins, plasticizers, metal treatment chemicals, and coatings with significant market expansion potential. The technology can easily be adapted to produce a broad range of other biochemical products as well. The new technology introduces a biosynthesis platform that increases process yield, conversion rate, and energy efficiency to encourage investment in distributed production facilities located in rural communities.

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:
Prof. James Swartz
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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