Company sees big biofuel opportunity in capturing industrial carbon emissions

Burning fossil fuels releases carbon emissions that harm our health and contribute to climate change. While our world’s energy supply shifts away from fossil fuels toward more renewable energy resources, ongoing industrial operations in sectors like steel manufacturing, refining, and chemical manufacturing continue to emit carbon into our atmosphere.

Fortunately, some entrepreneurial businesses are capturing these emissions and turning them into low-carbon fuels. One pioneering company in the low-carbon fuel industry is LanzaTech, a privately held, Chicago-based company that turns industrial gas emissions into fuels and chemicals.

By capturing and converting carbon-rich waste gases (containing carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and/or hydrogen) , LanzaTech projects it can make hundreds of billions of gallons of fuel each year, helping to directly offset petroleum consumption while reducing an industry’s carbon footprint. By utilizing waste streams, and co-locating a facility at the source of the waste gases, LanzaTech’s fuels are wholly outside the food value chain, with no direct or indirect land use change.

Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech’s CEO, said the company’s technology has the potential to produce biofuels on a massive scale.

“When you talk about current biofuels sources, many of them compete with the food supply or are limited to hundreds of millions of gallons,” Holmgren said when publicly announcing a partnership with airline Virgin Atlantic. “What we’re talking about here is something that can have a much, much bigger impact. You can literally make billions of gallons if you can capture that [carbon monoxide].”

Finished products from LanzaTech’s production process don’t just include transportation fuels that can power airplanes. Other LanzaTech products include fuel additives, ethanol, diesel, gasoline, and the building blocks for common chemicals.

LanzaTech also recovers and reuses water from its reactor system, leading to minimal water use and discharge.

A broad spectrum of input gases can be used for LanzaTech’s conversion process and the company has developed a microbe that can utilize flue gases that may or may not have any hydrogen present. Such a process distinguishes LanzaTech from many other advanced biofuel companies as it eliminates the need to have hydrogen in the gas stream.

LanzaTech is currently deploying and demonstrating its technology in a country with a growing pollution problem: China. LanzaTech has operated two 100,000 gallon/year pre-commercial facilities in China; one with Baosteel in Shanghai and a second with Shougang near Beijing, which has most recently been awarded a Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials certification of its sustainability.

LanzaTech’s first commercial projects will be located in China, but the process will be deployed globally with its various partners, thus, having the potential to have a major impact on the global fuels market.

LanzaTech’s first U.S. project will be located a few hundred miles southeast of Atlanta, in Soperton, Ga., and instead of using emissions from industrial operations, the facility, called Freedom Pines Biorefinery, will utilize logging residues and miscanthus grasses. In total in the USA, LanzaTech has grown from 9 employees in 2011 to 40 in 2013. This number is set to increase further as the company moves further along the pathway to commercialization.


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