Electrofuels update: Patent granted for CO2-to-gasoline process

December 27, 2015 |

In Maryland, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued patent number 9,217,161 for a process to ferment biomass or gases directly to hydrocarbons like hexane and octane.  The process belongs to the electrofuels family — technologies involving microorganisms that could use hydrogen or electricity to convert carbon dioxide to liquid fuels.

In this process, the fuels separate and rise to the surface of the fermentation broth, and are exactly the same as current components of gasoline.  Unlike ethanol, which requires a distillation step, octane separates from the fermentation on its own, and can be added directly to gasoline without any modifications to engines or fuel distribution systems.

Plants also convert sunlight and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to plant biomass, including corn grain that is currently used to make ethanol, but the efficiency of energy conversion is much lower than what can be obtained with the microorganisms.  The isolated microorganisms consume hydrogen directly as well as carbon dioxide or biomass, and they excrete alkanes.  The direct consumption of hydrogen or electricity by microorganisms that produce fuels is often referred to as “electrofuels”.

The scientists invented the process to make  electrofuels and isolated the microorganisms early in 2009, and filed two US patent applications.  The first patents were issued in May, 2012 and Sep. 2013 for methods to make alcohols including butanol.  The process for making various types of fuels was published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology in October 2015.

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Category: Research

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