How engineered bacteria could cut aviation emissions

Cemvita’s main approach relies on photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria that use light and carbon dioxide to grow. Through genetic engineering, the company makes bugs that produce the desired chemicals — in this case, components of jet fuel.

Cemvita’s chief commercial officer, Roger Harris, said details are still being worked out and Cemvita will use the United funding to develop and commercialize its lab-scale technology. Cemvita is also working on using its microorganisms to produce ethylene, a building block of some plastics.

Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita said Cemvita’s fuel can become neutral because the bacteria are consuming carbon dioxide. The fuel will still produce emissions when burned, but these will be partially offset by the amount of carbon captured to create it.

For the light the bacteria require, Cemvita will likely use artificial light inside the reactors, Harris said. While sunlight is free, relying on it places restrictions on how and where companies can build their manufacturing plants.

Cemvita is not the first company to try to produce engineered microbial fuels. Companies such as LS9, founded in 2005 and Joule Unlimited, founded in 2007, have garnered huge investments and excitement in the biofuel boom. In the end, most of these efforts stalled or turned away from fuel. LS9 has been sold out in 2014, and Joule turns off the phone in 2017.

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