Not Just for Cars Anymore: LanzaTech Takes Future of Biofuels Sky High

LanzaTech has been awarded $4M from the US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) to design and plan a demonstration-scale facility of their technology. The plant will produce 3M gallons per year of low carbon jet and diesel fuels by recycling industrial off gases through LanzaTech’s carbon recycling microbes, capable of turning CO and CO2 into useful commodities.

The company promotes a “carbon smart” circular economy: the company strives to “sequester” carbon into new products rather than taking it from fossil reserves, making both gas providers and end users more resource efficient. This innovation is based on naturally-occurring gas-fermenting organisms, called acetogens, which are capable of growing using gas emissions from hydrothermal vents, naturally producing ethanol as a byproduct. Many industrial emissions, including those from steel manufacturing, are very similar to the gases produced by hydrothermal vents, making acetogens the best candidates for working in this environment.

LanzaTech was founded in New Zealand in 2005 and is steadily expanding their reach through numerous alliances, such as their partnership with French company Global Bioenergies earlier last year, which focused on developing an integrated pipeline for turning waste gas into isobutene.

Now, the company’s efforts will be directed towards recycling industrial waste gases from steel manufacturing to produce jet fuel through a process that has already been tested for quality in a Virgin Atlantic proving flight. The process includes the production of “Lanzanol”, a low cost ethanol intermediate, and the “Alcohol to Jet” (ATJ) process co-developed by LanzaTech and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

“The ability to produce tightly-specified aviation fuel or, alternatively, high-cetane diesel is a unique feature of this technology that will enhance its competitiveness in U.S. as well as global markets.”, stated Suresh Baskaran, PNNL’s Chief Science and Technology Officer for the Energy and Environment Directorate.

LanzaTech’s expansion also includes building their first commercial ethanol facilities using waste gases, including one in China associated to the country’s largest steel company, Shougang; and one in Belgium, with the world’s largest steel manufacturer, ArcelorMittal. As part of the Department of Energy’s funding, LanzaTech and ArcelorMittal will evaluate US commercial opportunities for the demonstration of a new pathway to low carbon fuels from industrial wastes in underutilized niches.

However, the base process can be extended to many other industries. Cellulosic ethanol, for example, will be produced via fermentation of biomass syngas by Aemetis. Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO of the company, stated: “We look forward to deepening our relationship with LanzaTech and using our cellulosic ethanol produced from California agricultural residues, to power jet planes and diesel trucks in the future.”

Other partnerships include Ambitech, Petron Scientech, CRI Catalyst Company, Nexceris, Gardner Denver Nash, Michigan Technological University, and even Audi. The project has also received support from Airlines for America (A4A) and the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, whose Director showed himself excited about the demonstration-scale moving forward, and added that “The aviation enterprise remains committed to the use of competitively priced sustainable alternative jet fuel, and we look forward to continuing to work with LanzaTech on several ongoing efforts which we believe can lead to near-term full-scale commercialization.”

LanzaTech’s future seems bright for this coming year. The aviation industry’s support seems clear, and the economic impact the company can have in their sustainability is unprecedented. “Jet fuel accounts for as much as 40% of an airline’s operating costs, and the sector has made substantial commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions by 2025. “So fuels must address both of these needs to succeed at commercial scale” stated Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech’s CEO, through the company’s press release. “Thanks to the Department of Energy, the partners in this project will accelerate the commercial production of low cost, low carbon jet, gasoline and diesel in the United States”.

Emilia Díaz

Emilia Díaz

Best described as an entrepreneur, writer and speaker, Emilia is a young Chilean innovator working in the intersection of science and social impact, hoping to make the world a better place through biotechnology. At 22 she founded Kaitek Labs, one of Chile’s most renowned synthetic biology startups, for which she won numerous prizes, raised public and private capital, and attended business programs in Europe, Asia and Silicon Valley. After 4 years of writing about global biotech in various outlets and seeing the lack of Latin representation in the global scope, she also founded Allbiotech: the first Latin American Biotech network for biotech. She seeks to grow the local ecosystem through scicomm and innovation.

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