Electro-Autotrophic Synthesis of Higher Alcohols

Project: Research project


There is a need for an efficient way to produce formate as a feedstock for certain carbon-fixing bacteria that are being engineered to produce liquid fuel. Herein, we propose designing a scalable electrochemical bioreactor that will reduce CO2 to formate. Reduction of CO2 is a major theme in the Solar Fuels Energy Frontier Research Center at UNC-Chapel Hill (UNC-EFRC). The UNC-EFRC has developed a closely integrated effort in electrochemical and photoelectrochemical production of solar fuels with the Research Triangle Solar Fuels Institute (RTSFI), which is housed at RTI International in RTP. Together, our work will be conducted in collaboration with Dr. James C. Liao at UCLA. Dr. Liao has engineered a bacterium, Ralstonia eutropha H16, that consumes formate and produce liquid fuel such as isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol.

RTSFI will provide the expertise required for designing and building a working electrochemical cell to meet our milestone of developing a 5 L reactor that will produce isobutanol at a rate of 0.2 g/L/h. To help achieve this goal, the UNC-EFRC will develop electrodes that reduce CO2 to produce 2-3 g/L/h of formate, assuming that at least 80% of theoretical yield (formate to isobutanol) can be reached. Dr. Liao will be responsible for biological engineering.
Effective start/end date6/1/124/30/14


  • University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)


Liquid fuels
Electrochemical cells