SBIR Phase I: A Consolidated Bioprocess to Generate Hydrogen from Cellulosic Biomass

Award Information
National Science Foundation
Award Year:
Phase I
Agency Tracking Number:
Solicitation Year:
Solicitation Topic Code:
Solicitation Number:
Small Business Information
Microbial Fuel Cell Technologies, LLC
P.O.B. 1981, Mount Pleasant, SC, 29464
Hubzone Owned:
Minority Owned:
Woman Owned:
Principal Investigator:
Tsutomu Shimotori
(843) 792-7140
Business Contact:
Tsutomu Shimotori
(843) 792-7140
Research Institution:
This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project is aimed at the development of a new consolidated bioprocess to generate hydrogen from inexpensive cellulosic biomass in a single bioelectrochemical reactor. Demand for hydrogen is increasing but a renewable, inexpensive supply does not exist. Production of biofuels from cellulosic biomass has been proposed but this ordinarily requires multiple reactors and treatments. Microbial Fuel Cell Technologies' patent-pending process solves these problems by combining microbial fermentation and microbial electrolysis in a single thermophilic bioelectrochemical reactor. The goal of the Phase I research will be to determine the feasibility of this process by achieving the following: 1) identify biocatalysts suitable for microbial electrolysis at high temperature, 2) combine with cellulolytic thermophiles in a consolidated bioprocess microbial electrolysis cell (CBP-MEC), and 3) produce hydrogen from cellulosic biomass. It is anticipated that the system will recover more than 90% of the hydrogen bound to cellulose and will do so at high rates due to the metabolic properties of the thermophilic biocatalysts. Furthermore, the system will avoid fouling due to microbial contamination and will operate with robust biocatalysts. Hydrogen is a valuable commodity used in the reformulation of gasoline, food processing, and the production of fertilizer. It is also being considered as a transportation fuel to replace dwindling supplies of petroleum and avoid the release of climate changing carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is produced primarily by reformation of natural gas, and alternative methods remain expensive. This Phase I feasibility project will enhance the scientific and technological understanding of the use of microbial electrolysis to produce useful fuels and chemicals, in this case hydrogen. The CBP-MEC process will generate hydrogen from renewable cellulosic biomass while avoiding the use of fossil fuels or food crops. The hydrogen market in the US in 2005 was $798 million and worldwide it was $135 billion and growing 10% annually. Americans spent more than $400 billion for gasoline in 2007, thus a transition to hydrogen as a transportation fuel would significantly increase the market for this commodity. It is this large and growing market that MFC Technologies intends to enter by first testing the feasibility of the process, developing it to demonstration scale, and then leasing the technology to hydrogen manufacturers. This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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