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FMRG: Bio: Distributed Methane Conversion into Value Chemicals via Synthetic Microbial Consortia

Sponsored by National Science Foundation

$3.2M Funding
5 People

Related Topics


Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 25 times more damaging per molecule than carbon dioxide (CO2). Around the globe there are many methane sources of human and natural origin. Thus, there is a significant opportunity for technologies that capture and convert methane on-site into ?higher-value? chemicals. The goal of this project is to engineer new bioreactors that can efficiently convert methane into value chemicals. The project team will engineer enzymes inside microbes than can execute complex chemical reactions. The engineered microbes will be used to create structured biofilms inside of reactors to run chemical reactions at a large scale. These bioreactors will then be tested at relevant field sites, such as a wastewater treatment facility. The interdisciplinary team working on this project combines experts from synthetic biology, chemical engineering bioreactor design, social sciences, and potential future users to implement the new technology. The team will also study how this technology can be disseminated in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. This project includes a significant outreach component, with a particular focus on engaging underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The team will work with science teachers and their students to develop and disseminate novel educational activities that enable students to learn about microbiology. Emerging anaerobic, methane-oxidizing, microbiological systems hold promise for achieving on-site methane conversion more efficiently and more economically than existing chemical plants or aerobic bioreactors. The main project goal is to lay the foundation for modular, easily scalable, and distributable, anaerobic, and anaerobic/aerobic bioreactor systems that convert methane into higher-value chemicals utilizing synthetic microbial consortia. This project will have a significant impact on the future of biomanufacturing by: (1) capturing and converting methane into valuable chemicals in a more sustainable manner, (2) reducing greenhouse gas emissions, (3) developing novel, spatially-structured synthetic microbial consortia to execute these complex biosynthesis pathways, (4) designing bioreactors that holistically integrate all aspects from the basic sciences to the socio-economic benefits, and (5) developing biophysical models that enable rational reactor design and optimization. Moreover, the team takes an integrated and wholistic approach to systematically optimizing this technology at multiple levels, ranging from protein engineering to field-site integration. Collaboration with experts from bioreactor design to social scientists, and with potential future users (e.g., wastewater treatment plants, indigenous communities), will ensure project success and responsible dissemination of the results and technology. The team integrates education and interdisciplinary training of teachers, high-school and graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers at the interface of molecular biology, microbiology, and chemical engineering, and our teacher training will have multiplier effects. This project is jointly funded by the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems and the Division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation in the Directorate for Engineering, the Division of Chemistry in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, the Office of Multidisciplinary Affairs in the Directorate of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, and the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.