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Co-cultured Synechococcus and Shewanella Produce Hydrocarbons without Cellulosic Feedstock

DOE Grant Recipients

University of Minnesota

Contact University of Minnesota About This Technology


<span id="Caption"><span id="ctl00_MainContentHolder_zoomimage_defaultCaption">Shewanella Oneidensis naturally produces hydrocarbons without cellulosic feedstock.</span></span>
Shewanella Oneidensis naturally produces hydrocarbons without cellulosic feedstock.

<span id="Caption"><span id="ctl00_MainContentHolder_zoomimage_defaultCaption">Synechococcus  algae converts sunlight and CO2 into carbon-based food for the  Shewanella bacteria.  The Shewanella bacteria convert the food into  hydrocarbons using the OleA pathway.</span></span>
Synechococcus algae converts sunlight and CO2 into carbon-based food for the Shewanella bacteria. The Shewanella bacteria convert the food into hydrocarbons using the OleA pathway.

<span id="Caption"><span id="ctl00_MainContentHolder_zoomimage_defaultCaption">Shewanella  Oneidensis grafted onto a thin-latex film. The thin-film will quickly  transport hydrocarbons away from the bacteria allowing the bacteria to  produce more hydrocarbons.</span></span>
Shewanella Oneidensis grafted onto a thin-latex film. The thin-film will quickly transport hydrocarbons away from the bacteria allowing the bacteria to produce more hydrocarbons.

Technology Marketing SummaryThe Shewanella bacteria naturally produce hydrocarbons but the University of Minnesota clarified the key protein responsible for fuel production, OleA and recently obtained the proteins’s crystal structure. Based on this knowledge, experiments are currently in process to optimize fuel production through both metabolic engineering and optimization of OleA.DescriptionA method to directly synthesize long-chain (C25-C31) hydrocarbons directly from sunlight, water, and CO2 using co-cultured microbes has been developed. These hydrocarbons may be further processed into vehicle fuels using traditional oil refining techniques. This process eliminates the costs and challenges associated with obtaining, transporting, and processing cellulosic feedstocks into vehicle fuels. One of the microbes is Synechococcus, a naturally occurring Cyanobacterium that takes sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water and creates carbon-based food molecules for the second culture. The second microbe is Shewanella, which converts the food into more complex hydrocarbons. The two organisms have evolved naturally as symbiotic co-cultures and do not require genetic engineering to be compatible.Benefits
  • Synthesizes long-chain hydrocarbons directly from sunlight, water, and CO2, without cellulosic feedstock, using co-cultured microbes
  • Lower capital and operating expense.
  • Higher energy content in resulting vehicle fuels compared to ethanol
  • Minimal processing steps
  • Funded through an ARPA-E grant
  • Avoids reliance on large amounts of agricultural land and uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock
More Information

Inventor(s)

Dr. Larry Wackett, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Department of Biochemistry, BioTechnology Institute

With the push to develop renewable energy, Dr. Wackett has led the search for microbial enzymes that will synthesize fuels from biologically renewable sources. Because the most desirable components of petroleum are clean-burning hydrocarbons, Dr. Wackett is investigating the microbial biosynthesis of hydrocarbons from plant material through research funded by the Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) and a Discovery Grant for Biofuels from the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Jeff Gralnick, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, BioTechnology Institute

Dr. Gralnick has extensively studied the physiology of Shewanella, a species of gram-negative bacteria found throughout the world in aquatic environments. By understanding the molecular mechanism that enables this species to respire a diversity of compounds - including insoluble minerals - he hopes to engineer strains that can generate power in microbial fuel cells or react against certain toxic metals in the environment. Dr. Gralnick’s Research Group strives to integrate both classical and modern molecular approaches in their research to understand how bacteria influence our planet.

A team of University of Minnesota researchers is proposing to create clean-burning liquid hydrocarbon fuels from renewable biological sources - in this case, two different types of bacteria cultured together.
Working in partnership with the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the researchers will use a photosynthetic bacteria developed by PNNL that can convert light and carbon dioxide to "feed" a hydrocarbon-producing Shewanella bacteria they are altering for scaled-up production. A latex biofilm developed at the University and produced by university start-up BioCee Inc. will provide the environment for growth of the bacteria. University specialists in chemical engineering will work on "cracking" the thick hydrocarbon output to produce fuel.

Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Date
Application 20120015414
Application
20120015414
Production of organic compounds
The present invention provides methods for the production of hydrocarbons, particularly alkanes and alkenes, using biosynthetic routes, as well as genes and enzymes involved therein.
04/13/2011
Filed
Technology Status
Development StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
Development - Technology has been demonstrated on a laboratory scale. Research to improve OleA’s ability to take fatty acids and condense them into fuel precursors is being conducted.Available - Licensee will receive rights to practice the intellectual property (patent application) for the purposes of developing and manufacturing a commercial product.03/06/201203/06/2012

Contact University of Minnesota About This Technology

To: University of MinnesotaLarry Micek<exprlic@umn.edu>