LanzaTech develops waste gas-to-ethanol technology

By Erin Voegele | August 10, 2009
Report posted Aug. 27, 2009, at 2:00 p.m. CST

New Zealand-based LanzaTech NZ Ltd. recently announced it has developed a proprietary fermentation technology that can be used to produce ethanol using the carbon monoxide and hydrogen components of industrial waste gases and biomass-based syngas.

According to LanzaTech's co-founder Sean Simpson, industrial waste gases, such as those that result from steel processing, contain high concentrations of carbon monoxide. "The LanzaTech Process captures [this] gas and uses it as a resource," he said. LanzaTech's technology can also utilize the carbon monoxide and hydrogen components of syngas created using any biomass resource, including municipal waste, organic industrial waste and waste wood. "The gasification process breaks down the chemical bonds in the biomass, making up to 80 percent of the energy available for fermentation," Simpson said.

For use in LanzaTech's process, the gases are scrubbed, cooled and sent to a bioreactor. "The carbon component is used as a food source for the proprietary LanzaTech during the biofermentation process," Simpson said. "The microbes use this energy to produce ethanol and, once product recovery has taken place, fuel ethanol is produced that can be used as a high octane premium fuel."

According to Simpson, LanzaTech's proprietary fermentation microbe is not genetically modified. It is capable of using both carbon monoxide and hydrogen as its only source of carbon and energy. Aside from the waste gas, Simpson said the only additional input the technology requires is a low-cost media that aids in the growth of the proprietary fermentation bacteria.

To date, LanzaTech has tested its technology at a pilot facility located adjacent to the BlueScope Steel plant in Glenbrook, New Zealand. "This plant, designed, built and installed within a 12-month period, was commissioned in 2008, and has since successfully demonstrated the potential for processing this industrial waste gas stream to ethanol," Simpson said.

"A significant advantage of LanzaTech's technology is LanzaTech has demonstrated that its technology operates robustly and consistently using an industrial waste gas feedstock with minimum gas conditioning at pilot scale," he continued. "This experience has allowed the company to confidently model the use of minimal gas conditioning in its process to produce ethanol from biomass syngas…The gas stream used in the Lanzatech pilot varies in both process gas and entrained contaminant composition, yet through its pilot operation LanzaTech have demonstrated that neither impacts on the viability or productivity of the process during continuous operation."

Simpson said LanzaTech's goal is to have the technology installed on a commercial scale by 2013. It is expected that a commercial-scale facility will be integrated with an established industrial facility.