Energy Deptartment funds UW project to turn wasted natural gas into diesel

December 13, 2012

The U.S. Department of Energy this month awarded a group led by the University of Washington $4 million to develop bacteria that can turn the methane in natural gas into diesel fuel for transportation.

"The product that we're shooting for will have the same fuel characteristics as diesel," said principal investigator Mary Lidstrom, a UW professor of chemical engineering and microbiology. "It can be used in trucks, boats, buses, cars, tractors - anything that diesel does now."

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, selected the UW-led project in its second major funding round that awarded 66 grants to U.S. universities, businesses and national labs. The Energy Department launched the agency in 2009 to support high-risk, potentially transformative energy research projects.

The UW engineers will work with scientists at the National Renewable Energy Lab and two industry partners. They will target the natural gas associated with oil fields, which is often flared off as waste, as well as so-called "stranded" natural gas reserves that are too small for a pipeline to be economically viable.

The team aims to capture that natural gas and use bacteria to turn its main component, methane, into a liquid fuel for transportation.

"The goal at the end of three years is to have an integrated process that will be ready for pre-commercialization pilot testing," Lidstrom said.

The four project partners have distinct roles. First, the UW team will develop a version of the bacteria that is even better at converting methane to energy-rich fatlike molecules. Then LanzaTech, a New Zealand-based biofuels company, will develop a way to grow the new bacteria in larger quantities at high efficiency. Next the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., will devise an efficient way to extract the energy-rich molecules from the microbe's cells. Finally, partners at Johnson Matthey, a U.K. chemical company, will use chemical catalysts to convert those molecules into diesel.

After establishing a viable method, national lab scientists will work with the industry partners to develop an economic model that predicts manufacturing costs as production scales up.

The bacterium at the center of the effort comes from an alkaline salty lake near Mongolia. Team member Marina Kalyuzhnaya, a UW research associate professor in microbiology, discovered it during her graduate studies in Russia. The microbe can survive in harsh environments, consumes methane and uses it to build cells containing energy-rich lipids. At the UW, the microbe has been evolved to grow unusually fast, making it practical for industrial applications.

Other members of the UW team are research assistant professor David Beck and senior research scientist Ludmila Chistoserdova, both in chemical engineering. The grant starts in February and lasts three years, with project milestones due every quarter.

"It's exciting," Lidstrom said. "We have to hit the ground running. It's very ambitious but we believe this team is strong enough, and we know enough about what needs to be done that we will achieve our goal."
-end-
For more information, contact Lidstrom at 206-543-2250 or lidstrom@uw.edu.

University of Washington

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.