Just three months after LanzaTech announced a spin-out aimed at selling sustainable aviation fuel, the company is already preparing for two more.
LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren said Tuesday on the Disrupt 2020 virtual stage that the carbon capture technology company is planning to use its core technology to create two other businesses.
LanzaTech captures waste gas emissions and uses bacteria to turn it into useable ethanol fuel. A bioreactor is used to convert into liquids captured and compressed waste emissions from a steel mill or factory or any other emissions-producing enterprises.
The core technology of LanzaTech — and its future businesses — is a bacteria that likes to eat these dirty gas streams. As the bacteria eats the emissions it essentially ferments them — a bit like how beer is made, Holmgren recently explained — and emits ethanol. The ethanol can then be turned into various products.
“Using a technology like ours that can use so many different feedstocks — waste biomass, industrial gases, CO2 from the air — you’re going to be making so much ethanol, that I think of ethanol as the feedstock of the future. In other words, you’re going to use ethanol to make other products.”
In June, LanzaTech did just that and announced a spin-off called LanzaJet. The new company launched with commitments from Japanese trading and investment company Mitsui & Co. and Canadian oil and gas producer Suncor Energy, which will invest $85 million to fund pilot and development-scale facilities for LanzaJet.
Now it seems that LanzaTech has plans to pursue other pieces of the supply chain. Holmgren said the company is focused on a couple of use cases on the chemical side. Ethanol, for instance, can be converted to ethylene, which is used to make polyethylene for bottles and PEP for fibers used to make clothes.
“We see a path from ethanol to products using today’s supply chain,” Holmgren said.
More importantly, LanzaTech has focused on synthetic biology. The company has learned to modify the bacteria that it already uses to make ethanol, and instead harnesses it to make other chemicals directly.
“So you can imagine someday, we’re not just gonna make a fuel for a plane, we’re going make the seatbelts and upholstery — all of these things through synthetic biology,” she said, adding that this will likely become a spin-off.
The second spin-off company focuses on a byproduct it already makes. The bacteria that eats carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide is a “skinny bacteria” as Holmgren calls it, because it is mostly protein. LanzaTech already sells this skinny bacteria as a co-product of its technology.
“Not in the too distant future we will want to run a reactor with all of these gases, not to make ethanol, but to make protein, and I see that as an ultimate spin-out as well,” she said.
Holmgren didn’t provide a specific timeline of these spin-outs. Although she added that the company is putting together a plan now and will begin to make some moves in the next three months. There is capital that will be needed to get these enterprises up and running. The synthetic biology spin-off, which Holmgren said is further along, will need a couple hundred million dollars up front.
Holmgren also announced Tuesday during Disrupt 2020 a new small-scale waste biomass gasifier in India. The new gasifier will be hosted at Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemical, one of India’s largest refiners. The LanzaTech gasifier, which will be built in partnership with Indian project development firm Ankur Scientific, will use waste to make ethanol and chemicals rather than power.