Multi-Sector Project Team Develops Technology to Make Chemicals from Industrial Waste

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Energy dot gov Office of Energy Efficiency and renewable energy

Bioenergy Technologies Office


February 24, 2021

Multi-Sector Project Team Develops Technology to Make Chemicals from Industrial Waste

Engineered microbe, shown in blue light

Scientists from LanzaTech, Northwestern University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory engineered a microbe, shown in light blue, to convert molecules of industrial waste gases, such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, into acetone. The same microbe can also make isopropanol.

A team of researchers from LanzaTech, Northwestern University, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), with support from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), have developed technology that will convert waste carbon gases from industry and use it to produce acetone and isopropanol, chemicals that are widely used in everyday products, from fuels to fabric.

“This research provides double benefits: not only are greenhouse gas emissions being captured and kept out of the atmosphere, they are also being put to productive use to further the creation of biochemicals, which will displace petroleum-based chemicals with renewable chemicals,” said Director of BETO, Dr. Valerie Sarisky-Reed.

The new technology uses engineered microorganisms to convert carbon from agricultural, industrial, and societal waste streams into valuable chemicals, recycling carbon that would otherwise be released as greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change. Currently, the $10 billion global market for acetone and isopropanol is entirely made from fossil resources (oil, gas, and coal). This research could shift the process to use more sustainable feedstocks.

The scientists’ research methods for developing and analyzing this new process, including a pilot-scale demonstration and life cycle analysis showing the economic viability, are published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

BETO supports research, development, and demonstration to enable the sustainable use of domestic biomass and waste resources for the production of biofuels and bioproducts.