Envisioning the Bioconversion of Methane to Liquid Fuels

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Science  07 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6171, pp. 621-623
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246929

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Efforts to use natural gas in transportation, either directly or by conversion to a liquid fuel, have been spurred by recent increases in available supply and a growing price spread between natural gas and petroleum, especially in the United States (1). Conversion of natural gas-to-liquids (GTL) can take advantage of existing engine and delivery infrastructure, but GTL approaches operate on scales similar to that of petroleum refineries and suffer from low energy and carbon efficiencies, as well as high capital cost (2). Small-scale methane sources that are often flared or vented and that add greenhouse gas emissions also need an economical route for recovery. Biological methane conversion has the potential to directly activate methane at ambient temperatures and pressures on a scale similar to that of sugar fermentation (3) and could circumvent partial oxidation routes used industrially that dominate costs and reduce efficiency. Further process simplification is possible by one-step conversion, producing a single-molecule product and reducing the need for heat integration.