Transform methane into low-cost plastics, chemicals, fuels? Yep, there’s an app for that too.

June 19, 2013 |

Calysta’s technology


Methanotrophic bacteria

From the outset, let’s be clear that Calysta has a methanotroph — which is to say, a microorganism that accesses its carbon from methane, instead of sugars. There’s nothing in the microbe’s contract that states it can only munch on natural gas. Any source of methane will do – landfill gas, for example, biogas from anaerobic digesters, too. But, for sure, the cheapest and most spectacularly abundant source is fossil natural gas.

“It’s a hardware/software technology model,” Calysta Energy CEO Alan Shaw told the Digest. “We can take proven metabolic pathways out of existing bacteria – that’s the software — and drop them into our methanotrophs — that’s the hardware. It’s the organism that’s different – you have taken the same metabolic pathway except now you have developed the same fermentation based on methane from natural gas.”

Why this combination for making chemicals and fuels from natural gas?

“The problem with biobased technologies is that the biomass is not cheap enough, nor is it readily available enough. Few companies have successfully scaled-up. You see so many of them starting out trying to make fuels, and now they are talking about very specialized niches, mostly in chemicals.


“Sugars are too expensive for products that are reduced in relation to sugars,” Shaw told the Digest. “For example, products that don’t need the oxygen that is contained in sugar. Those products lend themselves to natural gas. For those that are oxidized — for example, lactic acid, succinic acid, you can see the economics in making them from sugar – and that’s why companies like NatureWorks have been successful, and others will too who go in that direction. But not diesel.”

In today’s Digest, we explore the question of whether it is “bio” at all?, the deal as seen by the partners, feedstock diversification, the 5-year goal, what Alan Shaw learned from the Shell-Codexis relationship, and the bottom line — by following the page links below.

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