DOE To Fund Electrofuels Research

Last week Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that the U.S. Department of Energy is awarding US $106 million in Recovery Act funding for research projects in a number of areas, including advanced biofuels research.

Funded through DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), part of the $106 million was awarded to projects that could produce advanced biofuels more efficiently from renewable electricity instead of sunlight. Thirteen of the grants are for “Electrofuels” – Biofuels from Electricity. These projects are listed below.

Lead Research Organization

ARRA Grant Amount

Lead Organization Location                    

Project Description


University of Massachusetts Amherst


Amherst, MA

Electron Source – Electric Current:  This project will develop a “microbial electrosynthesis” process in which microorganisms use electric current to convert water and carbon dioxide into butanol at much higher efficiency than traditional photosynthesis and without need for arable land.

Pennsylvania State University


University Park, PA

Electron Source – Solar Hydrogen:  An oil-producing algae that usually derives its energy from residual light and organic waste at the bottom of ponds will be “rewired” to use electricity.  The organism will be able to convert hydrogen and carbon dioxide into a bio-oil that can be refined into gasoline. 

The Ohio State University


Columbus, OH

Electron Source – Hydrogen:  An industrially scalable bioreactor approach to incorporate genetically engineered bacteria that metabolize carbon dioxide, oxygen, and hydrogen to produce butanol.  The team anticipates at least a twofold productivity improvement over current levels and a cost that can be competitive with gasoline.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Cambridge, MA

Electron Source – Hydrogen:  A bacterium capable of consuming hydrogen and carbon dioxide will be engineered to produce butanol, which could be used as a motor fuel.

Ginkgo BioWorks


 Boston, MA

Electron Source – Electric Current (via Formate):  The project will engineer a well-studied bacterium, E. coli, to harness electric current to convert carbon dioxide and water into isooctane, an important component of gasoline.

Harvard Medical School-Wyss Institute



Boston, MA

Electron Source – Electric Current:  This project will engineer a bacterium to be able to use electricity (which could come from renewable sources like solar or wind) to convert carbon dioxide into octanol, an energy-dense liquid fuel. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Cambridge, MA

Electron Source – Hydrogen and/or Direct Current:  This project will engineer two microbes, working together, to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen into oil, which could be refined into biodiesel.

North Carolina State University


Raleigh, NC

Electron Source – Hydrogen:  The project will engineer a novel pathway into a high-temperature organism to use hydrogen gas to convert carbon dioxide into precursor compounds that can be used to produce biofuels such as butanol.


OPX Biotechnologies Inc.


Boulder, CO

Electron Source – Hydrogen:  Microorganisms will be engineered to use renewable hydrogen and carbon dioxide inputs to produce a biodiesel-equivalent fuel at low cost. Catalysts will be explored to convert the microbial fuel into jet fuel.

University of California Los Angeles


Los Angeles, CA

Electron Source – Electric Current:  The project will use synthetic biology and metabolic engineering techniques to allow microorganisms to use electricity instead of sunlight for converting carbon dioxide into alcohol fuels that can be high octane gasoline substitutes.

Medical University of South Carolina


Charleston, SC

Electron Source – Electric Current:  The project will leverage microbial fuel cell technology to develop a microbial system that uses electricity to convert carbon dioxide into butanol or other alcohol fuels. 

Columbia University



New York, NY

Electron Source – Electric Current (via Ammonia):  The project will genetically engineer ammonia-consuming bacteria to produce isobutanol from carbon dioxide and electricity.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Berkeley, CA

Electron Source – Hydrogen:  A common soil bacterium will be engineered to produce butanol and hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The organism would be able to produce its own hydrogen by splitting water in the presence of electricity.

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