ARPA-E—Methylase Project


EESA’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) effort, the Methylase Project, aims to develop biological systems for direct conversion of CO2 or CH4 to liquid transportation fuels. Methane is the main component of gaseous/solid fossil fuel resources, and constitutes one of the largest organic carbon reserves. It is also a main component of anaerobic decomposition processes that produce biodigester gas, landfill gas, sewage gas, and other types of biogas, and represents a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is an inexpensive and plentiful feedstock with a high H:C ratio and is highly valued as an energy-rich fuel and raw material for chemicals. However, methane remains a gas at surface temperatures and pressure and, therefore, is problematic and costly to transport, a drawback that is exacerbated by the fact that a large portion of the known natural gas reserves are located in remote areas of the world.

The goal of this project is to engineer a bacterium for efficient conversion of methane to liquid transportation fuel.

We focus on:

  1. Bio-engineering of key enzymes
  2. Installing and enhancing a pathway for biofuel synthesis

The rationale for the Methylase Project is three-fold:

  • Bio-conversion of methane avoids shortcomings associated with chemical methane conversion.
  • De novo construction of a methylase is a novel approach and departs from earlier efforts in engineering methanotroph metabolism and in improving biological methane-to-liquid (MTL) fuel production.
  • As opposed to the methane monooxygenases (MMOs) in methanotrophs, the constructed methylase is intended to operate without consumption of reducing power.

The objectives for the Methylase Project are to:

  • Employ rational protein engineering in combination with accelerated evolution to convert an existing carboxylase to a methylase enzyme.
  • Develop a high-throughput assay for methylase activity.
  • Incorporate the methylase into a novel methane assimilation (M-A) metabolic cycle that will allow for assimilation of CH4 into Acetyl-CoA, a fuel intermediate.
  • Install the methylase and M-A cycle in bacteria for conversion of CH4 to hydrocarbon fuels.

PEPMase team:

Christer Jansson*, Romy Chakraborty, John Tainer, Steven Yannone, Ken Zahn, Henry Tang, David Shin, Hal Padgett, Matt McGee, Gregory Hura, John Reed, Ameen Razavi, Peter Bluford, Jacob Gimbel

* now at PNNL