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.
In this work, EESA scientists are using biology to develop ways of accessing oil and coal that expend less energy and release fewer greenhouse gases. For instance, biological processes might be used to coax oil from below ground or to alter the semi-porous rock that holds oil, making it flow to the surface. Making it easier to access hard-to-reach domestic oil reserves will help ensure that oil remains part of a diverse mix of energy choices.
The Microbial Communities research team prospects for new enzymes that can efficiently deconstruct lignocellulosic biomass. Group members take samples from such places as rain forest floors and composts. From these samples, specific microbes and enzymes are identified, isolated, and manipulated, and a suite of “omics” tools is used for genome-level community characterization.
As part of the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) program for research on microorganisms that can produce liquid fuels without using petroleum or biomass, a Berkeley Lab-EESA team engineered strains of a common soil bacterium, Ralstonia eutropha, to produce drop-in replacements for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel using only hydrogen and carbon dioxide as inputs.
Researchers in the Biofuels Pathways Group discover naturally occurring enzymes that, when integrated with metabolic pathways for biofuel precursors (such as fatty acids), enable engineered microbes to synthesize advanced biofuels. A genome-enabled approach is used to study both pure bacterial cultures and natural microbial communities known to produce the biofuels of interest.
A Systems-Biology Approach to Energy Flow in H2-Producing Microbial Communities (ESD–LLNL Collaboration)
This research aims to develop an integrated analysis of energy flow in complex microbial communities. We are combining biogeochemical, stable isotope probing, metatranscriptomic and computational approaches, to understand nutrient cycling and biofuel (H2) production production in complex microbial communities. A comprehensive understanding of such communities is needed to develop efficient, industrial-scale processes for microbial H2 production and lignocellulose degradation.