Pfleger leads $3.5 million Department of Energy project to produce carbon-negative chemicals

// Chemical & Biological Engineering

Photo of Brian Pfleger
Brian Pfleger

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded almost $3.5 million in funding to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a project investigating methods for producing carbon-negative chemicals led by Brian Pfleger, the Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Professor in chemical and biological engineering.

The award is part of ARPA-E’s ECOSynBio program, which promotes technologies focused on innovative synthetic fermentation and biorefining processes that make the production of biofuels and chemicals more efficient and lower carbon emissions.

The UW-Madison project is titled “Acetate as a Platform for Carbon-Negative Production of Renewable Fuels and Chemicals.” The goal of the project is to eliminate the release of carbon dioxide in the production of chemicals by integrating unique microorganisms into the process. One organism produces acetate, an important chemical precursor, from carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The second organism then upgrades the acetate into higher-value chemicals. The carbon dioxide released during the process is recycled internally to produce more acetate, creating a system with zero carbon dioxide release. The platform can be located and scaled to match existing sources of carbon dioxide emissions, as long as a source of hydrogen is available.

The project is one of 15 selected by ECOSynBio, which awarded a total of $35 million in funding in May, 2021. The program is part of an effort create new pathways for biofuel conversion that reduce carbon waste and maximize the amount of renewable fuel produced in the conversion process. These advancements in clean energy technology are critical in helping the United States reach its goal of a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Author: Jason Daley