Intrexon Energy Partners, and Dominion Energy, a subsidiary of Dominion Resources, have entered into an agreement 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 says its 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 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, the company says.
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.
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.
Earlier this month Biofuels Power signed a letter of intent with ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions and Liberty GTL to build a small-scale GTL demonstration facility in Houston.