Intrexon Corporation, a synthetic biology company, announced last week that it has joined forces with Dominion Energy, a subsidiary of Dominion Resources, to explore the potential for commercial-scale biological conversion of natural gas to isobutanol, a drop-in fuel with numerous advantages over other clean burning gasoline blendstocks.
Intrexon’s proprietary methanotroph bioconversion platform has the potential to transform the gas-to-liquids (GTL) industry through use of optimized microbial cell lines to convert natural gas into higher carbon compounds such as isobutanol and farnesene under ambient temperatures and pressures.
This novel approach avoids costly, resource intensive thermochemical GTL conversion methods, and offers a biofuel that does not utilize sugar or other plant-based feedstock, which are expensive carbon sources that compete with food crops for arable land. Additionally, through the substantial yield advantage of the methanotroph over other microbes, Intrexon’s bioconversion platform has a favorable economic profile that, based on current targets, will allow even small scale demonstration plants to achieve profitability within the first year of production.
“We are excited to partner with IEP and help realize the promise of their GTL platform to harness a plentiful feedstock in natural gas for the bio-production of isobutanol. Dominion is committed to being a good environmental steward while providing reliable, affordable energy services for our customers,” said Diane Leopold, President of Dominion Energy.
Conversion of methane to isobutanol provides economic and environmental advantages upon which the collaboration will look to build. In comparison to other gasoline substitutes, isobutanol offers cleaner burning combustion with less corrosion, holds more of gasoline’s energy content allowing longer travel, is cheaper to blend with gas, and its compatibility with the current petroleum infrastructure offers a dramatic improvement in efficient transport of the fuel itself. These positive attributes are driving investment in butanol plants which may reach $6 billion by 2020 according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“Dominion’s operational leadership in natural gas processing and transport along with their extensive geographic footprint makes them an ideal partner to scale-up and commercialize IEP’s bioconversion platform,” commented Robert F. Walsh, Senior Vice President and Head of Intrexon’s Energy Sector. “We believe our innovative biological solution for converting low cost natural gas into higher valued fuels, lubricants and chemicals will transform the gas to liquids field.”
Under the terms of the agreement, IEP will be required to meet specific development milestones prior to initiation of certain commercialization activities, which are subject to board approval by both parties. Dominion will be the exclusive partner to construct, own, operate, and maintain the production facilities in the Marcellus and Utica Shale Basins located in eastern North America via potential long-term services agreements with IEP. Within this geographic region, the collaboration plans to build natural gas bioconversion facilities leading to the creation of job opportunities and generation of local and state tax revenue.
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