For nearly 15 years LanzaTech has been developing a carbon capture technology that can turn waste streams into ethanol that can be used for chemicals and fuel.
Now, with $72 million in fresh funding at a nearly $1 billion valuation and a newly inked partnership with biotechnology giant Novo Holdings, the company is looking to expand its suite of products beyond ethanol manufacturing, thanks, in part, to the intellectual property held by Novozymes (a Novo Holdings subsidiary).
“We are learning how to modify our organisms so they can make things other than ethanol directly,” said LanzaTech chief executive officer Jennifer Holmgren.
From its headquarters in Skokie, Ill., where LanzaTech relocated in 2014 from New Zealand, the biotechnology company has been plotting ways to reduce carbon emissions and create a more circular manufacturing system. That’s one where waste gases and solid waste sources that were previously considered to be un-recyclable are converted into chemicals by LanzaTech’s genetically modified microbes.
The company already has a commercial manufacturing facility in China, attached to a steel plant operated by the Shougang Group, which produces 16 million gallons of ethanol per year. LanzaTech’s technology pipes the waste gas into a fermenter, which is filled with genetically modified yeast that uses the carbon dioxide to produce ethanol. Another plant, using a similar technology, is under construction in Europe.
Through a partnership with Indian Oil, LanzaTech is working on a third waste gas converted to ethanol using a different waste gas taken from a Hydrogen plant.
The company has also inked early deals with airlines like Virgin in the U.K. and ANA in Japan to make an ethanol-based jet fuel for commercial flight. And a third application of the technology is being explored in Japan which takes previously un-recyclable waste streams from consumer products and converts that into ethanol and polyethylene that can be used to make bio-plastics or bio-based nylon fabrics.
Through the partnership with Novo Holdings, LanzaTech will be able to use the company’s technology to expand its work into other chemicals, according to Holmgren. “We are making product to sell into that [chemicals market] right now. We are taking ethanol and making products out of it. Taking ethylene and we will make polyethylene and we will make PET to substitute for fiber.”
Holmgren said that LanzaTech’s operations were currently reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.
“LanzaTech is addressing our collective need for sustainable fuels and materials, enabling industrial players to be part of building a truly circular economy,” said Anders Bendsen Spohr, senior director at Novo Holdings, in a statement. “Novo Holdings’ investment underlines our commitment to supporting the bio-industrials sector and, in particular, companies that are developing cutting-edge technology platforms. We are excited to work with the LanzaTech team and look forward to supporting the company in its next phase of growth.”
Holmgren said that the push into new chemicals by LanzaTech is symbolic of a resurgence of industrial biotechnology as one of the critical pathways to reducing carbon emissions and setting industry on a more sustainable production pathway.
“Industrial biotechnology can unlock the utility of a lot of waste carbon emissions,” said Holmgren. “[Municipal solid waste] is an urban oil field. And we are working to find new sources of sustainable carbon.”
LanzaTech isn’t alone in its quest to create sustainable pathways for chemical manufacturing. Solugen, an upstart biotechnology company out of Houston, is looking to commercialize the bio-production of hydrogen peroxide. It’s another chemical that’s at the heart of modern industrial processes — and is incredibly hazardous to make using traditional methods.
As the world warms, and carbon emissions continue to rise, it’s important that both companies find pathways to commercial success, according to Holmgren.
“It’s going to get much, much worse if we don’t do anything,” she said.