Zero-Carbon Biofuels: An Optimized Two-Stage System for High Productivity Conversion of CO2 to Liquid Fuels

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Program:
ECOSynBio
Award:
$2,108,532
Location:
Cambridge,
Massachusetts
Status:
ACTIVE
Project Term:
09/22/2021 - 03/21/2024

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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has demonstrated a two-stage system where acetate is produced from CO2 and H2 via acetogenic fermentation in the first stage and then fed to the yeast reactor for converting acetate to lipids or alkanes. MIT proposes to reduce or eliminate CO2 generation during lipid production by (1) engineering an oleaginous yeast with the enzymes necessary to generate reducing equivalents from hydrogen, formic acid, or methanol, and (2) installing a carbon-conserving non-oxidative glycolysis. The system’s commercial competitiveness is currently limited by the rate of CO2 fixation in the first stage. MIT recently showed that synergistic substrate co-feeding drastically enhances CO2 fixation rates and will explore additional co-substrate pairs to maximize acetate productivity.

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:
Prof. Gregory Stephanopoulos
Press and General Inquiries Email:
ARPA-E-Comms@hq.doe.gov
Project Contact Email:
gregstep@mit.edu

Partners

Northeastern University

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Release Date:
05/14/2021