How engineered microbes could cut aviation emissions

Semvita’s main approach relies on photosynthetic microorganisms called cyanobacteria that use light and carbon dioxide for growth. Through genetic engineering, the company creates bugs that produce the desired chemicals – in this case, the components of jet fuel.

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

Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita, says that Cemvita’s fuel can be considered carbon neutral because microorganisms consume carbon dioxide. The fuel will still produce emissions when burned, but it will be partially offset by the carbon that was caught to make it.

For the light needed by the microbes, Semvita would probably use artificial light inside the reactor, Harris says. When sunlight is free, relying on the sun will put barriers on how and where a company can build its manufacturing plant.

Semvita is far from the first company to try to make fuel from engineered microbes. Companies such as LS9, founded in 2005, and Joule Unlimited, founded in 2007, received large investments and stimulus in the biofuel boom. Eventually, most of these efforts stalled or ran out of fuel. The LS9 sold out in 2014, and Joule closed in 2017.

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