Making renewable energy feasible | UChicagoTech

First, we remind you of one previous dispatch from very nearly two years ago, as accessible via:

Chicago Bugs Convert CO2 into Methane | Research & Development | News; concerning: "United States Patent Application 20090130734 - The Production of Methane from CO2; May, 2009; Inventor: Laurens Mets, Chicago; (Probable Assignee of Rights: University of Chicago); Abstract: A method of converting CO2 gas produced during industrial processes comprising contacting methanogenic archaea with the CO2 gas under suitable conditions to produce methane. Claims: A method of converting carbon dioxide produced during an industrial process to methane comprising: a) preparing a culture of hydrogenotrophic methanogenic archaea in a bioreactor; b) supplying an output gas from an industrial process to the bioreactor; wherein the output gas comprises Carbon Dioxide and between 0.02% and 6.7% oxygen; and: c) wherein the hydrogenotrophic methanogenic archaea converts the output gas to continuously produce methane. The method ... wherein the culture is a substantially pure culture of one hydrogenotrophic methanogenic archaea species.  The method ...  wherein H2 is supplied in an amount to maintain a redox potential in the bioreactor (and) wherein no additional constituent other than the H2 gas is added to the bioreactor to maintain the redox potential in the bioreactor under -100 mV or less. The method ... wherein the industrial process is coal gasification";

 

wherein it was seen that the University of Chicago, in the person of Professor Laurens Mets, had devised biologically-based technology for converting Carbon Dioxide, as perhaps recovered from a "coal gasification" process, into substitute natural gas Methane, in a process requiring very little, "100mV or less", energy input to stimulate the methanogenic microorganisms into consuming CO2 and producing Methane from that CO2.

And, we note that technology seems closely related to other bio-based CO2-recycling, Methane-producing technologies developed a little closer to Coal Country, as in our report of:

West Virginia Coal Association | Penn State May 14, 2013, CO2 to Methane | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent 8,440,438 - Electromethanogenic Reactor and Processes for Methane Production; May 14, 2013; Inventors: Shaoan Cheng and Bruce Logan, State College, PA; Assignee: The Penn State Research Foundation, University Park, PA; Abstract: Increasing competition for fossil fuels, and the need to avoid release (of) carbon dioxide from combustion of these fuels requires development of new and sustainable approaches for energy production and carbon capture. Biological processes for producing methane gas and capturing carbon from carbon dioxide are provided according to embodiments of the present invention which include providing an electromethanogenic reactor having an anode, a cathode and a plurality of methanogenic microorganisms disposed on the cathode. Electrons and carbon dioxide are provided to the plurality of methanogenic microorganisms disposed on the cathode. The methanogenic microorganisms reduce the carbon dioxide to produce methane gas, even in the absence of hydrogen and/or organic carbon sources".

And, herein we learn that the University of Chicago and Dr. Laurens Mets have continued to develop not only their technology for recycling Carbon Dioxide and for producing substitute natural gas Methane; but, their business plan for commercializing that CO2-to-Methane technology, as well.

First, in a news release from "UChicago", as excerpted from the initial link in this dispatch, we learn:

"Renewable natural gas: Not an oxymoron, this new concept is rapidly working its way out of the lab into the real world of energy generation, storage and delivery.

With microbes as a catalyst, the new technology - called electrobiological methanogenesis - uses electricity generated by the sun or wind to convert water and carbon dioxide into methane, the chief ingredient of natural gas.

Electrochaea, which licenses the technology from the University of Chicago, recently received a $1.2 million grant from the Danish government to demonstrate the technology at 250-kilowatt scale at a commercial biogas plant in Denmark. The demonstration is planned to begin in the second quarter of 2012 and last about 18 months, according to Mich Hein, Electrochaea’s CEO. “We expect to be operating a larger commercial facility by 2014.”"

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Should the initial link in this dispatch fail, here's a back-up:

http://tech.uchicago.edu/learn/features/20120210_electrochaea/; A photograph included in the news release bears the caption: "UChicago licensee Electrochaea uses electricity generated by the sun or wind to convert water and carbon dioxide into methane, the chief ingredient of natural gas".

More about the University of Chicago's business partners, "Electrochaea", can be learned via:

Electrochaea, LLC - Power-to-Gas via Biological Catalysis - Electrochaea, LLC - Power-to-Gas Energy Storage; "Electrochaea is developing a disruptive grid-scale energy storage technology. Known as power-to-gas, our process converts low-cost and stranded electricity into pipeline-grade renewable gas for direct injection into the existing natural gas grid.  The core of our power-to-gas system is a selectively evolved microorganism - a methanogenic archaea - that excels through unprecedented catalytic capability and industrial robustness. The technical advantages of our solution translate into lower capital and operating costs and greater operational flexibility than conventional thermochemical methanation processes. Electrochaea's power-to-gas technology represents a commercially viable solution for utility-scale energy storage, grid balancing, and carbon recycling. The feasibility of our process has been demonstrated in laboratory and field trials, and we are currently pursuing  a sequence of demonstration projects for additional de-risking and incremental scale-up"; and:

Electrochaea, LLC - Power-to-Gas Energy Storage - Executive Team - Electrochaea, LLC - Power-to-Gas via Biological Catalysis; "Laurens Mets, PhD - Principal Investigator; Laurens Metes is the inventor of Electrochaea's biocatalyst. He Currently serves as and Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Chicago, where he has been researching thermotrophic archaea since 2007. Previous research efforts focused on how plant and algal cells construct their photosynthetic apparatus and on how photosynthesis functions as a solar energy conversion system".

And, Dr. Mets has continued to develop the biologically-enabled, low-energy conversion of Carbon Dioxide into substitute natural gas Methane, as witness two additional patent applications following the above-cited "United States Patent Application 20090130734 - The Production of Methane from CO2":

"United States Patent Application: 0110165667 - Method and System for Converting Electricity Into Alternative Energy Resources

Method and System for Converting Electricity Into Alternative Energy Resources - THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

Date: July 7, 2011

Inventor: Laurens Mets, Chicago

Assignee: The University of Chicago, IL

Abstract: A system to convert electric power into methane includes a reactor having a first chamber and a second chamber separated by a proton permeable barrier. The first chamber includes a passage between an inlet and an outlet containing at least a porous electrically conductive cathode, a culture comprising living methanogenic microorganisms, and water. The second chamber includes at least an anode. The reactor has an operating state wherein the culture is maintained at a temperature above 50 C. The system also includes a source of electricity coupled to the anode and the cathode, and a supply of carbon dioxide coupled to the first chamber. The outlet of the system receives methane from the first chamber.

Claims: A system to convert electric power into methane, the system comprising: a reactor having a first chamber and a second chamber separated by a proton permeable barrier, the first chamber comprising a passage between an inlet and an outlet containing at least a porous electrically conductive cathode, a culture comprising living methanogenic microorganisms, and water, and the second chamber comprising at least an anode, the reactor having an operating state wherein the culture is maintained at a temperature above 50 C.; a source of electricity coupled to the anode and the cathode; and a supply of carbon dioxide coupled to the first chamber wherein the outlet receives methane from the first chamber.

The system ... wherein the reactor has an operating state wherein the culture is maintained in the first chamber at a temperature of about 60 C. or higher (and) wherein the culture comprises Archaea adapted to nearly stationary growth conditions (and)wherein the culture comprises Archaea of the subkingdom Euryarcheaota (and) wherein the Archaea consist essentially of Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus.

The system ... wherein the reactor has the operating state and a dormant state, the reactor changing from the dormant state to the operating state without addition of methanogenic microorganisms (and) wherein the dormant state exists when the reactor is decoupled from the source of electricity or the source of carbon dioxide.

The system ... wherein the source of electricity comprises at least one of a coal-fired power plant, ... a wind-powered turbine, a water-powered turbine, a fuel cell, a geothermal power source, a solar thermal system or a photovoltaic system (and) wherein oxygen is the only gaseous byproduct (and)wherein water is a primary net electron donor for the methanogenic microorganisms.(and) wherein the reactor operates at an electrical current density above 6 mA/cm2.

Background: This patent is directed to the conversion of electrical energy into alternative energy resources, such as fuels. In particular, the patent relates to conversion of carbon dioxide into methane and other energy resources using electrical energy".

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Note, in the above, the various sources of electricity which can be used to power the microorganisms that convert Carbon Dioxide into substitute natural gas Methane, which sources include, since the bugs don't need a lot of juice supplied to them to effect the CO2-to-Methane conversion, a variety of alternatives, including wind and solar photovoltaic's, and even what we take to mean excess, or off-peak, electricity from a "coal-fired power plant".

In any case, "United States Patent Application 011065667- Method and System for Converting Electricity Into Alternative Energy Resources" was soon followed by one closely similar, which might, we're not qualified to and won't attempt the analysis, represent little more than editing or improvement on the original, as in:  

United States Patent Application: 0110287504 - Method and System for Converting Electricity Into Alternative Energy Resources

Method and System for Converting Electricity Into Alternative Energy Resources - THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

Date: November 24, 2011

Inventor: Laurens Mets, Chicago

Assignee: The University of Chicago, IL

Abstract: A method of using electricity to produce methane includes maintaining a culture comprising living methanogenic microorganisms at a temperature above 50 C in a reactor having a first chamber and a second chamber separated by a proton permeable barrier, the first chamber comprising a passage between an inlet and an outlet containing at least a porous electrically conductive cathode, the culture, and water, and the second chamber comprising at least an anode. The method also includes coupling electricity to the anode and the cathode, supplying carbon dioxide to the culture in the first chamber, and collecting methane from the culture at the outlet of the first chamber. 

Summary: According to an aspect of the present disclosure, a system to convert electric power into methane includes a reactor having a first chamber and a second chamber separated by a proton permeable barrier. The first chamber includes a passage between an inlet and an outlet containing at least a porous electrically conductive cathode, a culture comprising living methanogenic microorganisms, and water. The second chamber includes at least an anode. The reactor has an operating state wherein the culture is maintained at a temperature above 50 C. The system also includes a source of electricity coupled to the anode and the cathode, and a supply of carbon dioxide coupled to the first chamber. The outlet of the system receives methane from the first chamber."

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Even further, and from our point of view more desirably, Dr. Mets was able to isolate a naturally-occurring, not genetically-modified, microorganism that, in the conditions defined by US Patent Applications 011065667 and 0110287504, is especially capable of effecting the high-rate conversion of Carbon Dioxide into Methane. As seen in the very recent: 

United States Patent Application: 0140011251 - Methanothermobactwer Thermautotrophicus Strain And Variants Thereof

METHANOTHERMOBACTER THERMAUTOTROPHICUS STRAIN AND VARIANTS THEREOF - THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

Date: January 9, 2014

Inventor: Laurens Mets, Chicago

Assignee: University of Chicago, IL

Abstract: The invention provides an isolated Methanothermobacter microorganism that is: (a) a microorganism of Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus strain UC 120910, deposited on Dec. 21, 2010, with the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) under ATCC.RTM. Patent Deposit Designation No. PTA-11561; (b) a variant thereof; or, (c) a progeny thereof, as further described herein.

Claims: The isolated Methanothermobacter microorganism (as claimed and described) that produces at least or about 96 molecules of methane per 100 molecules of carbon dioxide supplied to the microorganism.

Summary: The disclosure provides an isolated Methanothermobacter microorganism that produces methane from carbon dioxide via a process called methanogenesis. In exemplary aspects, the Methanothermobacter microorganism is a microorganism of the species thermautotrophicus, which is also known as thermoautotrophicus, which is also known as thermautotrophicum or thermoautotrophicum. In exemplary aspects, the Methanothermobacter microorganism is a microorganism of the species marburgensis. 

In exemplary aspects, the Methanothermobacter microorganism exhibits a high methane production efficiency. For instance, the Methanothermobacter microorganism exhibits a high methane production efficiency that is at least or about 25 CO2 molecules converted to methane per CO2 molecule converted to cellular material (and) produces at least or about 96 molecules of methane per 100 molecules of carbon dioxide supplied to the microorganism".

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We haven't reproduced a lot of the detail of US Patent Application 20140011251. We've many times explained or alluded to our great personal insufficiencies, and we don't want to risk misinterpretation or misrepresentation, especially with regards to disclosures of biotechnology about which in the first place we know little about.

However, the "Methanothermobacter microorganism" - - a naturally-occurring bug that doesn't need it's genes diddled with to do what is desired, i.e., convert Carbon Dioxide into substitute natural gas Methane at a high rate and with great efficiency - - appears to be of the sort specified in US Patent Applications 011065667 and 0110287504, wherein only water and a relatively small amount of electricity are needed to enable the little critters to synthesize "96" units of Methane from every "100" units of Carbon Dioxide fed to them..

And, the above "US Patent Application 0140011251 - Methanothermobactwer Thermautotrophicus Strain And Variants Thereof", in the course of it's full Disclosure, seems to call, in some cases, for making free, elemental and molecular Hydrogen available to the microorganism to effect the CO2-to-Methane conversion at such high rates and high efficiencies..

We don't believe that free Hydrogen is strictly speaking required, although we're definitely not qualified to say so categorically.

But, as we have documented, and as we will further report, the technology for efficiently extracting Hydrogen from water, H2O - - in many cases using environmental energy to drive, or even using other microorganisms to facilitate, the water-splitting process - - is becoming much more practical and is very real. If we need Hydrogen, to efficiently make Methane from Carbon Dioxide according to the processes of our subjects herein, that shouldn't be seen as road block. That, especially when, as seen for only one example in:

Saudia Arabia CO2 + Methane = Hydrocarbons + Syngas | Research & Development | News; concerning: "United States Patent 7,355,088 - Process for Producing Benzene, Ethylene and Synthesis Gas; 2008; Assignee: Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, Riyadh; Abstract: Process for producing benzene, ethylene and synthesis gas, comprising the steps of: i) introducing a starting gas flow comprising methane and carbon dioxide into a reactor; ii) oxidizing the methane in the reactor at certain reactor conditions optionally using a first catalytic material and/or and additional oxidant; and: iii) removing a product gas flow comprising benzene, ethylene and synthesis gas from the reactor";

we can then react the Methane - - made with such a low energy input, perhaps by "Methanothermobacter microorganism"s, in the process of, for instance, "United States Patent Application 011065667- Method and System for Converting Electricity Into Alternative Energy Resources", from Carbon Dioxide - - with even more Carbon Dioxide, as recovered from whatever handy source, and thereby synthesize both valuable hydrocarbons and a "synthesis gas", which is itself suitable for catalytic condensation, as perhaps via the nearly ancient Fischer-Tropsch process, into even more hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals.

You know, whether anyone in US Coal Country, most especially the Coal Country press and any others responsible for educating and informing, want to publicly acknowledge it or not, Carbon Dioxide - - as is emitted in only a small way, relative to a number of all-natural and un-taxable sources of it's emission, such as the Earth's inexorable processes of planetary volcanism, from our economically essential use of Coal in the generation of truly abundant and truly affordable electric power - - is a valuable raw material resource.

We can, according to the University of Chicago herein, reclaim Carbon Dioxide from whatever handy source, and, then, in a very efficient, biologically-catalyzed process driven by freely-available and basically eternal environmental energy, we can convert that Carbon Dioxide into fracking-free, environmentally-responsible substitute natural gas Methane.


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