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Denmark: Power-to-Gas Patent on Super Single-Celled Organisms for Biomethane Production

Editor: MA Alexander Stark

Electrochaea has successfully patented a strain of microorganisms specially developed for efficient biocatalytic methane production. The patent for the EU was recently validated in Denmark, where Electrochaea has been operating the world's first biological methanation plant with a power uptake of one megawatt, since 2016.

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Electron microscope photograph of the Electrochaea archaea strain, a variation of Methan-othermobacter thermautotrophicus.
Electron microscope photograph of the Electrochaea archaea strain, a variation of Methan-othermobacter thermautotrophicus.
(Source: Prof. Andreas Klingl)

Copenhagen/Denmark — The single-celled organisms used by the company are called archaea or, more precisely, a variation of the strain Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus. Along with bacteria and eukaryotes, archaea form the third domain in the tree of life. They are among the most ancient organisms on Earth, yet quite unknown outside of science. These single-celled organisms are rugged survivalists and can adapt to extreme environmental conditions. From a biotech standpoint, the microorganisms' special metabolic performance is very interesting and can be used in many different ways. Electrochaea utilizes its patented archaea to produce natural-gas-quality biomethane from hydrogen and CO2.

This biological methanation method offers a way to use CO2 while simultaneously making it possible to store excess renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar power as renewable natural gas. Costly and wasteful shutdowns of solar and wind power plants that would otherwise be required to prevent an overload of the electricity grid can be avoided and the stranded or excess electricity can be stored and distributed as renewable gas, the company claims.

In a first step, the electricity is used to produce hydrogen (electrolysis). The hydrogen and added CO2 from industrial emissions or other sources are then converted into biomethane by the archaea in a biocatalytic process. The gas produced by the microorganisms can be used flexibly to generate heat or to be used as a fuel. The biomethane can be stored and transported via the existing natural-gas grid.

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