A Novel Integrated Fermentation Process with Engineered Microbial Consortia for Butanol Production from Lignocellulose Sugars without CO2 Emission

Default ARPA-E Project Image

Columbus, Ohio
Project Term:
08/05/2021 - 08/04/2024

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:

The Ohio State University is designing, modeling, and constructing synthetic microbial groups consisting of three bacterial species. Lactic acid bacterium, a carboxydotrophic acetogen, and a solventogenic clostridium are grown in a consortium that produces n-butanol, an advanced biofuel and industrial chemical used in plastics, polymers, lubricants, brake fluids, and synthetic rubber. The bacteria will react with lignocellulose sugars (mainly glucose and xylose) and formate (from CO2 produced by electrochemical reduction) in a biorefinery. This solution will maximize carbon conversion and butanol production with a 100% theoretical product yield and zero or negative CO2 emissions. With a 50% higher product yield from glucose compared with current acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation with corn, biobutanol can be produced at prices that compete with gasoline, bioethanol, and the existing ABE fermentation technologies with greater carbon efficiency.

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. Steven Singer
Project Contact:
Prof. Shang-Tian Yang
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Related Projects

Release Date: