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Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 2010 Small Business Award

LS9, Inc. (Acquired by Renewable Energy Group, Inc.)


Microbial Production of Renewable PetroleumTM Fuels and Chemicals

Innovation and Benefits: Industrial microbes usually make single substances, such as triglycerides like those in vegetable oil. Each single substance is then purified and converted into other chemicals, such as biodiesel fuel. LS9, Inc. has genetically engineered a variety of microorganisms to act like refineries. Each microbe makes a specific, final chemical product. Among these products is UltraCleanTM diesel. This fuel, produced from biomass, eliminates the benzene, sulfur, and heavy metals found in petroleum-based diesel.

Summary of Technology: The renewable, scalable fuels and chemicals with the greatest potential for rapid and widespread adoption by consumers are those that are both cost-competitive with petroleum and compatible with the existing distribution and consumer infrastructure. LS9 has developed a platform technology to produce a wide variety of advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals cost-effectively by a simple, efficient, one-step fermentation process. LS9 has engineered established industrial microorganisms to convert fermentable sugars selectively to alkanes, olefins, fatty alcohols, or fatty esters, each in a single-unit operation. The process enables precise genetic control of the molecular composition and performance characteristics of each resulting fuel or chemical product. LS9's technology leverages the natural efficiency of microbial fatty acid metabolism to biosynthesize long hydrocarbon chains. It combines this with new biochemical pathways engineered into microorganisms to convert the long-chain intermediates into specific finished fuel and chemical products that are secreted by the cells. The products are immiscible with the aqueous fermentation medium and form a light organic phase that is both nontoxic to the whole-cell catalyst and easily recoverable by centrifugation. LS9 is actively developing the technology for the production of alkanes (diesel, jet fuel, gasoline), alcohols (surfactants), esters (biodiesel, chemical intermediates), olefins (lubricants, polymers), aldehydes (insulation, resins), and fatty acids (soaps, chemical intermediates). Specific product performance is enabled through the genetic control of each product's chain length, extent of saturation, and degree of branching. Unlike the competing biofuel processes, LS9's process does not require any metal catalysts.

LS9 has successfully scaled up its technology to produce UltraCleanTM diesel at the pilot-plant level. UltraCleanTM diesel meets or exceeds all of the ASTM 6751 specifications for on-road vehicle use. It eliminates the environmental pollutants benzene, sulfur, and the heavy metals found in petroleum-based diesel and will result in an 85 percent decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to the GREET model for life cycle analysis (LCA). Without subsidy, UltraClean DieselTM will be competitive in the market with diesel from oil priced at $45–50 per barrel. LS9 is advancing toward commercial scale with its Renewable PetroleumTM facility, which will come on line in 2010. Initially, this facility will produce UltraCleanTM diesel; other products will follow. LS9 has achieved some success in direct biomass-to-fuel conversion.

LS9 is applying this technology platform through a strategic partnership with Procter & Gamble to produce surfactants for consumer chemical products. These and other LS9 drop-in, renewable products are on target to facilitate broad environmental benefits through rapid product adoption. The efficiency, affordability, and product performance bodes well for the LS9 technology to become one of the keys to sustainable fuels.

Podcast on the technology:

 (MP3, 284 KB, 57 minutes)

Read the text of this podcast.

Other resources:

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