Tech Tuesday is an on-going series profiling the Forum’s Technology Pioneers. The Tech Pioneers are companies that have been recognized by the Forum for ground-breaking and innovative approaches in tackling some of the world’s most wicked problems. Each week we will be showcasing one of the 2013 Tech Pioneers. You can learn more about the Technology Pioneer Programme on the Forum’s website.
LanzaTech: Producing ethanol from bacteria that thrives on carbon monoxide
LanzaTech’s breakthrough technology employs genetically modified bacteria that can convert carbon monoxide into ethanol while also producing other useful chemicals. The company’s synthetic organism is anaerobic, which means that although it thrives on industrial exhaust fumes, it cannot function in plain air containing oxygen. The technology uses a bioreactor containing a proprietary solution, which supports genetically engineered bacteria that feeds off of exhaust fumes from industrial production, waste and biomass. Carbon monoxide is fed into the system and the microbes interact to create a chemical broth, which is then processed to separate ethanol and butanediol. The latter can be used in rubber and nylon production.
The system achieves a double objective. It captures a key greenhouse gas before reaching the atmosphere and it avoids depleting finite petroleum reserves by providing an inexpensive fuel from a waste product that is not only in abundant supply, but is also considered a nuisance. An initial target is the exhaust given off by steel plants. LanzaTech has a demonstration plant producing 100,000 gallons of ethanol from carbon monoxide emanating from a Chinese steel plant, and it has licensed the technology to a company in India to convert solid waste for biofuels. At least two additional sites in China, each capable of producing 30 million gallons of ethanol, are planned for the end of 2013. Talks are under way to provide jet fuel for Virgin Atlantic, and the US Federal Aviation Authority has provided a US$ 3 million grant to push the research forward. Estimates are that carbon monoxide given off by the world’s steel mills alone could eventually be capable of producing 50 billion gallons of ethanol a year.
Jennifer Holmgren, Chief Executive Officer
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Number of Employees: 100
Year Founded: 2005
LanzaTech NZ Ltd
24 Balfour Road
1052 Parnell, Auckland