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Design for Good

This Company’s Breakthrough is Changing the Future of Fuels and the World

If the current growth rate continues, the global demand for petroleum will double in the next 40-50 years. According to the IEA we will need to introduce more than 30% zero-carbon fuels to stabilize CO2 levels at 450 parts per million.

New Zealand’s company LanzaTech is going to be part of the zero-carbon fuels future. Named in 2012 by the World Economic Forum as a potential technology game-changer and in 2013 as One of America’s Most Promising Companies by Forbes magazine, LanzaTech has developed a unique technology that uses a microbe to convert poisonous gas (rich in CO and CO2) into useful things such as fuels and chemicals.

The microbe is unique, because instead of feeding on some form of sugar it basically eats gas emitted by plants. It uses existing waste such as industrial gases from steel mills and processing plants, organic industrial waste, and agricultural waste – all widely and cheaply available. It has the same safety rating as baker’s yeast, and enables the production of chemical building blocks from which jet fuels, diesel and plastics are made, providing opportunities to revolutionize numerous industries. The technology reduces the overall carbon emissions by recycling the carbon released in the atmosphere and also substitutes the use of new fossil fuels. 

The company opened its pilot plant in New Zealand in 2008, and has successfully demonstrated that its technology works and is scalable. Currently, two plants operate in China using gases from working steel mills and one operates in the U.S. using forestry waste. In fact, earlier this year the company reported that its demonstration facility in China exceeded productivity expectations and now a full-scale commercial facility is planned for 2013 in partnership with one of the world’s largest steel producers.   

We are at the cusp of helping energy intensive industries realize “opportunities of staggering proportions” as technologies that convert waste into valuable fuels and chemicals evolve and scale, and as industries around the world begin adopting their use. We should be asking ourselves, if these technologies are available now, why on earth are we still considering burying carbon? 

Jennifer Holmgren, CEO

 

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