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Synthetic Bio Harnessed for Jet Fuel from CO2

Aviation biofuel truck

(United Airlines)

29 Mar. 2022. A company that captures and converts greenhouse gases to usable materials with synthetic biology is developing a process to produce aviation fuel. Biotechnology enterprise Cemvita Factory Inc. in Houston is partnering with United Airlines and energy producer Occidental Petroleum to convert carbon dioxide into sustainable aviation fuel, with United also making an equity investment in the company.

Cemvita Factory is a five year-old business that genetically engineers microbes to ingest greenhouse gases responsible for climate change and convert the gases to commercial raw materials. The company uses carbon dioxide and methane captured from industrial emissions as feedstocks for materials normally made with petroleum by-products, such as plastics and fuels. Cemvita says it applies artificial intelligence and other computational techniques with automation and advances in genetic engineering to alter microbes’ natural processes to produce ethylene, a widely used chemical usually made from natural gas, and some 30 other raw materials.

Cemvita Factory is also developing a process it calls gold hydrogen to convert residual crude oil in depleted reserves to hydrogen. The company says the process uses genetically engineered microbes to ferment unrecovered crude oil while still underground in reserves or caverns. Cemvita began a partnership last month with two other companies and a not-for-profit group to advance the gold hydrogen technology.

Joint venture for commercialization

In their agreement, United Airlines Ventures and Oxy Low Carbon Ventures or OLCV are funding development of a new Cemvita Factory process for converting carbon dioxide into aviation fuels. If initial performance targets are achieved, United and OLCV agreed to form a joint venture with Cemvita to commercialize the technology. That joint venture is expected to include engineering studies, pilot and demonstration projects, construction financing, and sustainable aviation fuel plant operations.

OLCV is a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum supporting new low-carbon petroleum alternatives, and United Airlines Ventures is the airline’s corporate venture capital fund. United Airlines Ventures is making an equity investment in Cemvita Factory as part of the deal, while OLCV is a founding investor in the company. Other financial and intellectual property terms of the agreement, including dollar amounts, were not disclosed.

United Airlines Ventures began in 2021 to support aerospace and other technologies related to air travel, which includes decarbonizing the company’s processes. The company says it invests in fuel efficiency, alternative fuels such as biofuels, and electric aircraft, to help reach its corporate goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. In addition to Cemvita Factory, UA Ventures’ investments include Alder Fuels, a developer of aviation fuels from biomass, Fulcrum Bioenergy that converts household garbage into aviation fuels, and ZeroAvia, developing aircraft engines powered by hydrogen.

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