PROCESS technology company LanzaTech has successfully engineered biocatalysts to directly produce ethylene from CO2, in a continuous process at lab scale.
According to LanzaTech, about 160m t/y of ethylene is produced, providing a building block for thousands of chemicals and materials, and acting as a necessary component for making plastics, detergents, and coatings. LanzaTech says it is the most widely used petrochemical in the world. According to a 2021 report, it is also one of the largest sources of CO2 emissions in the chemical industry, resulting in 1–1.8 t of CO2 for every 1 t of ethylene produced.
LanzaTech currently produces ethylene via an indirect ethanol pathway. The company produces ethanol from industrial emissions, which can be used to make ethylene via established thermochemical pathways, such as hydration. Its latest development bypasses conversion to ethanol, making the process less energy intensive and more efficient.
Michael Köpke, VP of Synthetic Biology at LanzaTech, explained that the new process is similar to established LanzaTech technology, in which gases containing CO, CO2, and H2 are fermented to make ethanol using a biocatalyst. “The direct method uses a specifically engineered biocatalyst that selectively produces ethylene from CO2,” he said.
While still at lab scale, the direct approach has the potential to help LanzaTech in its mission to replace fossil-based feedstocks used to manufacture goods, with waste carbon. More widely, it could help reduce the carbon intensity of the chemicals industry. Next, the company will look at optimising process efficiency and scaling from lab to pilot scale.
Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, said: “Now is the time to break free from relying on virgin fossil inputs as a feedstock for the things we use in our daily lives. With the ability to directly produce this bulk chemical commodity, we aim to make synthetic biology accessible and bring it to the people in everyday consumer goods…This is an exceptional opportunity to implement meaningful carbon removal and create sustainable synthetic chemicals that we believe can replace fossil fuels forever."
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.