Proof of concept for direct production of monoethylene glycol (MEG), a key building block in sustainable PET manufacturing, has been completed at lab scale.
A consortium including LanzaTech and Danone has discovered a new route to manufacturing monoethylene glycol (MEG) — a key building block for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin, fibers and bottles — from captured carbon emissions. The technology converts carbon emissions from steel mills or gasified waste biomass directly into MEG.
LanzaTech’s carbon-capture technology uses a proprietary, engineered bacterium to convert the CO2 directly into MEG through fermentation, bypassing the need for an ethanol intermediate, and simplifying the MEG supply chain. The direct production of MEG has been proven at laboratory scale and the presence of MEG was confirmed by two external laboratories.
“We have made a breakthrough in the production of sustainable PET that has vast potential to reduce the overall environmental impact of the process,” said LanzaTech CEO Dr. Jennifer Holmgren. “This is a technological breakthrough which could have significant impact, with applications in multiple sectors, including packaging and textiles!”
While there is no organism in nature known to produce MEG, through this proof-of-concept stage, Illinois-based LanzaTech has used synthetic biology and AI tools to discover multiple novel pathways to make MEG directly from carbon emissions. By combining and prototyping various sets of enzymes identified from different sources in novel ways, LanzaTech has successfully reprogrammed its ethanol-producing bacteria to fix and channel carbon into MEG.
This early-stage proof-of-concept work shows that it is possible for a bacterium to directly produce MEG from gas. By producing MEG directly, the new technology avoids the multiple processing steps required to convert ethanol into ethylene, then ethylene oxide and then to MEG. LanzaTech anticipates that, when scaled successfully after a multiyear development phase, the direct production process for PET — a clear, strong, lightweight, versatile plastic that can be easily and repeatedly recycled (into rPET) — made from captured carbon emissions could greatly reduce the environmental impact and increase circularity of plastic production.
LanzaTech is partnering with leading companies to improve the environmental impact of packaging. Given the success of this proof-of-concept phase, LanzaTech, with the support of Danone, plans to continue the scale-up phase of its direct-to-MEG technology — together with partners InEnTec, Waste Management and lululemon, the company is now working to apply and scale the technology for upcycling of non-recyclable plastic waste and apparel to MEG, with support from the US Department of Energy.
“We have been working with LanzaTech for years and strongly believe in the long-term capacity of this technology to become a game changer in the way to manage sustainable packaging materials production,” said Danone R&I Advanced Techno Materials Director Pascal Chapon. “This technological collaboration is a key enabler to accelerate the development of this promising technology.”
With expertise in synthetic biology, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and machine learning coupled with engineering, Illinois-based LanzaTech has created a platform that converts waste carbon into new everyday products that would otherwise come from virgin fossil resources. The company has continued to expand applications of its game-changing carbon-capture and -transformation technology and partner with major companies to scale its impacts. In the past year alone, the startup has joined forces with Coty, to create carbon-negative ethanol for fragrance production; with lululemon, to develop polyester made from recycled carbon emissions; and just last month, with Bridgestone Americas — to develop the first dedicated end-of-life tire-recycling process, creating a pathway toward tire material circularity and the decarbonization of new tire production. In January, LanzaJet — LanzaTech’s sustainable fuels technology arm — received a $50M capital infusion from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund to help scale and lower costs of sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel.
LanzaTech’s first two commercial-scale gas-fermentation plants have produced over 30 million gallons of ethanol, which is the equivalent of offsetting the release of 150,000 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Additional plants are under construction globally.