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admin | What Antibiotics Treat Bv | 21.04.2014
How’s this for innovative: A Berkeley Lab-led team hopes to engineer a new enzyme that efficiently converts methane to liquid transportation fuel. Methane is the main component of natural gas and biogas from wastewater treatments and landfills.
From left, Christer Jansson, John Tainer, and Steve Yannone at the SYBILS beamline at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source.
Scientists are working to make this enzyme more efficient, but Jansson’s team is taking a new approach. This new enzyme, a methylase, could be added to bacteria for production of different fuels such as butanol and biodiesel.
The scientists aim to develop a new way to harness methane as an energy source for vehicles. John Tainer’s and Steve Yannone’s groups in Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division will explore how the enzyme can be tweaked so that it binds with methane. In addition, Novici Biotech, a California-based industrial partner, will create tens of thousands of variants of the enzyme with its proprietary synthetic biology technology. Ideally, each step will circle closer to a new enzyme that’s very efficient at converting methane to an oxidized product. The $3.5 million project is funded by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which focuses on “high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.

The Advanced Light Source is a third-generation synchrotron light source producing light in the x-ray region of the spectrum that is a billion times brighter than the sun. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Another source is “stranded natural gas,” which is currently flared or vented at remote oil fields, and which represents an enormous unused energy resource.
They're among a team of scientists working to make liquid transportation fuel from methane. It remains a gas at surface temperatures and pressure, which makes it problematic and costly to transport. There are bacteria in nature that gobble up methane and convert it to chemicals that can be fashioned into fuel.
One untapped source could be stranded natural gas, which is currently flared or vented at oil fields. They’ll use computational analysis to map the structural changes needed so that the enzyme has a shot at breaking methane’s bonds and snaring the molecule. A DOE national user facility, the ALS attracts scientists from around the world and supports its users in doing outstanding science in a safe environment. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes.

Its structure is relatively simple and well understood, making it an ideal platform to tinker with, which in this case means engineering the enzyme to consume methane instead of carbon dioxide and release a product that can feed into a pathway for fuel synthesis. They’ll also study the enzyme at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source, where the SIBYLS synchrotron beamline combines X-ray scattering with X-ray diffraction capabilities.
Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute will assist in analyzing these variants to identify those with the best characteristics.
Kiverdi is also heading the business analysis and tech transfer part of the project with Berkeley Lab business specialists Andrea Schoeller and Bill Shelander.
And methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential more than 20 times that of carbon dioxide.
Unfortunately, the enzyme doesn’t produce chemicals with the efficiency needed to make transportation fuels.

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