Cracking “Economies of Scale”: Biomanufacturing on Methane-Rich Feedstock

  • Anna M. Crumbley
  • Ramon GonzalezEmail author


Methane is considered a “dream energy package” for chemical production. The large amount of energy stored in methane (CH4) and the current market trend toward lower CH4 price make the use of CH4 as a carbon and energy source for higher-value chemical production desirable. With a substantial stored energy capacity of 47 MJ/kg as determined by the lower heating value (LHV), CH4 represents a driving force behind only hydrogen (120 MJ/kg) as a high-energy feedstock for chemical production (Boundy et al. 2011). Recent natural gas prices put methane costs around $5/thousand cubic feet in 2016, one of the lowest trends since the early 2000s (Fig. 17.1a; U.S. Energy Information Administration 2017). While CH4 production volumes are increasing, due in part to transitions in oil and gas recovery techniques (Fig. 17.1b), the distributed and small-scale nature of many sites, together with CH4’s inherent chemical properties including flammability and gaseous nature, complicate its recovery and transportation using conventional technology (Fig. 17.1c; U.S. Energy Information Administration 2016). Rather, standard protocols at distributed or small-scale sites typically rely on flaring or venting of CH4 to the atmosphere to remove the gas (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1991). Remote CH4, however, represents a potentially lucrative opportunity given the viable technology to recover and transform CH4 into a more readily transportable form, such as a liquid or solid value-added product (Haynes ans Gonzalez 2014; Conrado and Gonzalez 2014; Clomburg et al. 2017). Unique opportunities for industrial biomanufacturing that are not considered to be feasible for chemical manufacturing via traditional routes may be well-suited to address several challenges associated with remote CH4 recovery, such as utilizing small feedstock volumes, erecting compact facility operations at or near well sites, pursuing biological mechanisms for direct conversion of CH4 to higher-value fuels and chemicals in liquid or solid form, and considering early separation requirements during process design for efficient scale-up to commercial operation.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemical and Biomolecular EngineeringRice UniversityHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BioengineeringRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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