Formate as an Energy Source to Allow Sugar Fermentation with No Net CO2 Generation: Integration of Electrochemistry with Fermentation

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Program:
ECOSynBio
Award:
$2,838,575
Location:
Golden,
Colorado
Status:
ACTIVE
Project Term:
09/15/2021 - 09/30/2023
Website:

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:

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the University of Oregon, Genomatica, and DeNora will generate low-cost and low-carbon-intensity fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) feedstock to generate renewable diesel and sustainable jet fuel. The team’s biorefining concept uses electrochemically generated formate as a universal energy carrier to facilitate a carbon-optimized sugar assimilation fermentation to synthesize FAME without release of CO2. The oxidation of formate to CO2 provides the reducing equivalents necessary for the fermentation and enables potentially all the carbon within the sugar to be converted to FAME. The fermentation technology continuously uses the electrochemically generated formate, which is stored in a surge tank decoupled from bioproduction. The tank is part of a novel chemical looping reactor system that allows the team to take advantage of intermittent low-cost renewable electricity.

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.

Security:

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.

Environment:

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.

Economy:

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.

Contact

ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. David Babson
Project Contact:
Randy Cortright
Press and General Inquiries Email:
ARPA-E-Comms@hq.doe.gov
Project Contact Email:
randy.cortright@nrel.gov

Partners

DeNora Tech
University of Oregon
Genomatica

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Release Date:
05/14/2021