Updated on 6 September 2012
Dr Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech
With the rising cost of fuel and the depleting reserves, the world is pinning its hopes on viable options for biofuels. While many companies are engaged in research for second and third generation biofuels, New Zealand-based start-up LanzaTech has taken a slightly different route to solve the problem.
LanzaTech, founded in 2005, aims to develop and commercialize technologies for producing low-carbon fuels that do not utilize food, water or land resources. The technology was first proven in 2008 at its pilot facility at BlueScope Steel's New Zealand mill, using real world gas resources to produce fuel-grade ethanol. Today, the company has an international team of over100 people with offices in China, New Zealand and the US. It will also open an office in India soon.
LanzaTech's process is a gas fermentation technology that converts gases rich with carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide into valuable fuels (ethanol) and chemicals. Proprietary microbes of LanzaTech utilize the carbon from these waste gases as a source of energy to produce diverse range of products such as ethanol and chemicals like acetic acid and 2,3-butanediol.
The gases produced by industries such as steel manufacturing, oil refining and chemical production enter the process at the bottom of the bioreactor, and is dispersed into the liquid medium where it is consumed by LanzaTech's proprietary microbes as the reactor contents move upward in the reactor vessel. The net product is withdrawn and sent to the product recovery section. "Our hybrid separation system is where the valuable products are separated and the water is recycled back into the reactor to increase efficiency and minimize water discharge," says Dr Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, Lanzatech. In some cases, the products are directly used as fuel, but in other cases, they can be converted into common chemicals or "drop in" fuels that are normally derived from petroleum.
The main driver of the process, LanzaTech's proprietary microbe, is naturally occurring and is categorized as a WHO-risk 1 organism (same as baker's yeast). "The microbes act as biocatalysts that allow production of both fuel and chemicals from industrial waste gases," says Dr Holmgren.