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Fewer people know that natural gas is a platform for producing ethanol – either through fermentation or catalytic conversion (typically via methanol) – and drop-in fuels using the methanol-to-gasoline method pioneered years ago by ExxonMobil are another route.
One of the more intriguing uses of natural gas is to use it to generate electric power, and then convert that electricity directly into biofuels. The methanol-to-gasoline process was done by Mobil, before the merger with Exxon.
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ARPA-E’s Electrofuels program is seeking to take advantage of those properties to create processes that are up to 10 times more energy efficient than current biofuel production methods. Back in 2010, they funded 13 projects that will attempt to bring a feasible technology forward to achieve those productivity levels.
And, yes, 20,000 gallons per (acre-year) shows up:
But here are a class of magic bugs that could really generate yields in the 20,000+ gallons per acre range, evenproduced via flat panels on a desert floor.
They can produce fuels 24/7 – and you can even produce them in three-dimensions to achieve even more efficiencies of acreage. You can stack them towards the sky, or towards the center of the earth, and the per-acre yields can go as high as the costs of stacking permit.
Why of renewed interest now? The availability of low-cost natural gas in the United States is going to radically change the economics of these fuels, should natgas be utilized as an underlying feedstock.
**Also, note the paper Mixotrophic operation of photo-bioelectrocatalytic fuel cell under anoxygenic microenvironment enhances the light dependent bioelectrogenic activity in Bioresource Technology 109 (2012) 46–56: The aim of this study is to explore the potential of mixotrophic operation, on photo-bioelectrocatalytic/PhFC operation using photosynthetic consortia as biocatalyst. .
**Also Control of electron transport routes through redox-regulated redistribution of respiratory complexes
by Liu, Mullineaux, and others.