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LanzaTech

Recycling Carbon for a Cleaner Tomorrow

Sector: Futuremakers
Themes:

LanzaTech is turning our global carbon crisis into a feedstock opportunity with the potential to displace 30% of crude oil use today and reduce global CO2 emissions by 10%. LanzaTech’s carbon recycling technology is like retrofitting a brewery onto an emission source like a steel mill, but instead of using sugars and yeast to make beer, pollution is converted by bacteria to fuels and chemicals! Imagine a day when your plane is powered by recycled GHG emissions, when your yoga pants started life as pollution from a steel mill.

The world’s industrial sector, oil refineries, and chemical plants , contribute over 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Where most people see this only as pollution, Chicago-based LanzaTech considers it opportunity.

The biotech startup has developed a way to turn emissions into ethanol, a renewable fuel that is commonly used in US gasoline. “Instead of letting carbon emissions come out of a steel mill, we capture them, we put them in our bio reactor and ferment just like making beer to make ethanol,” said LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren.

The key to the process is a gas-eating bacteria developed specifically for fermentation. The company says the bacteria feeds on the emissions, rather than feeding on sugar or corn, to generate ethanol. “It’s a naturally occurring organism, and what we’ve done is directed evolution so that we’ve optimized it,” she said.

Last year, LanzaTech installed its first system at a steel mill in China. The company says it’s recycled enough carbon to make 9 million gallons of ethanol, which can be combined with jet fuel to power commercial planes. In October 2018, LanzaTech partnered with Virgin Atlantic and Boeing to partially power the first commercial flight (from Orlando, Florida to Gatwick, England) using LanzaTech’s jet fuel.

Now LanzaTech, which has raised more than $250 million from investors over the last 14 years, is expanding into industries beyond steel mills and developing new strains of bacteria that can produce ingredients for things like nylon, rubber and plastic.

Green alternatives are increasingly crucial to fighting the growing threat of climate change. The Earth’s temperature is on track to rise 1.5 degrees by 2050. Scientists project we may see detrimental climate impacts if global carbon emissions is not drastically reduced by then.

Other companies are also developing innovative ways to cut global emissions. Massachusetts-based Cambrian Innovation turns contaminated wastewater into renewable energy, and Canadian firm Enerkem extracts carbon from trash and converts turns it into a gas, which can be used to make biofuels.

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