Microbial Metabolic Exploration Project Converts CO Gases to Biofuels and Commodity Chemicals

Achievement date: 
2016
Outcome/accomplishment: 

The Microbial Metabolic Exploration (MME) project at the NSF funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG), headquartered at Arizona State University, developed the microbial conversion of carbon monoxide (CO), and CO-containing gases generated from combustion of recalcitrant biomass waste to biofuels and commodity chemicals.

Impact/benefits: 

MME’s research applies to bioremediation of polluted areas, conversion of biomass waste, and generating alternative energy. The Center also established enrichment and isolation protocols that will help engage microorganisms with other pollutants to harness energy, and other processes that can enhance infrastructure, mining, and other industries.

Explanation/Background: 

The MME project contributes to the exploration of extreme environments to harvest novel microorganisms useful for biotechnological applications. An advantage of these extremophiles over common microorganisms is their resistance to harsh conditions.

Examples of application of extremophiles in industry include bio-leaching of copper, conversion of organic waste to methane at high temperature, and conversion of toxic gases, such as CO. CO-oxidizers enriched from extreme environments contribute to the sustainable production of biofuels and feedstock chemicals from CO generated in the gasification of recalcitrant biomass waste. Applications include forestry, agriculture, and municipal waste.

The project’s achievements include the systematic enrichment and isolation of extremophiles that convert CO into acetic acid and biofuels (i.e., ethanol and hydrogen). The project explored high-pH locations in Oman and the bottom of the ocean in California (approximately 30 meters deep).