Industrial Waste Gas Fermentation: Carbon Recycling for Fuel Production

Context of Transport Climate Action

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 5th Assessment Report states that limiting the total of human- induced global warming to less than 2 degrees Centigrade will permit a global emissions safety allowance of around 1000 Gigatons CO2 (GtCOs). Known fossil fuel reserves will produce a volume of carbon which is at least 4 times more than this, so, on current trends, this safety allowance will be gone by 2030-2040. To avoid the calculated risks and costs of future climate change, we must use every means to stretch our current global carbon budget throughout and beyond the next 100 years. We need to find a way to maximize the use of our existing fossil fuel resources, making every molecule of carbon count. LanzaTech produced biofuels by capturing carbon- rich waste gases and recycles them into useful products, including transportation fuels, with no impact on land or food.


LanzaTech has a uniquely innovative approach to converting the carbon-rich waste gases from the steel industry into valuable products, including ethanol and 20 other distinct chemicals. These waste gases had never been exploited before the development of LanzaTech’s new capture and recycle technology; previously the costs of conditioning the gases in order to render them usable in any biological process had been prohibitive. LanzaTech has developed a unique microbial capability that captures and recycles a broad spectrum of gases, including raw industrial off gases[1] for fuel production. The use of highly robust microbes, combined with innovations in bioreactor design and process development, have enabled rapid scale- up to take place.

The use of captured waste gases and naturally-occurring microbes allows fuel-grade ethanol to be made.

[1] An off gas is a gas which is given off during a reaction, especially one emitted as the by-product of a chemical process.


In Ghent, Belgium, the consortium of ArcelorMittal, LanzaTech, Primetals Technologies and E4tech has begun the construction of Europe’s first-ever commercial- scale production facility at ArcelorMittal’s integrated steel plant. The facility will make bioethanol from the waste gases produced during the steelmaking process next door.

The plant, aims to produce 47,000 tonnes of fuel-grade ethanol per year; it will demonstrate the added value of recycling waste gas for the production of alternative fuels and commodity chemicals rather than making them from fossil based oil. This ethanol production process does not involve land use change issues, nor does it have an negative effect on the food value chain.

The construction of the €87 million flagship pilot project is anticipated to commence in 2016, with bioethanol production expected to start mid-2017. Construction will be in two phases, with the first phase providing an initial capacity of 16,000 tonnes of ethanol per annum by mid-2017 and phase two, which will be completed in 2018, bringing the total capacity to 47,000 tonnes of ethanol per annum.

The ethanol from waste gas production plant in Ghent is the first of its type and will be followed by a further roll-out in Europe. The production potential of full deployment is calculated to be around 300,000 tonnes of ethanol per year equivalent to 380 million litres.

The project is partly funded by the European Union, under the Horizon2020 programme’s “Demonstrating Advanced Biofuels Technologies”.. The rest will be funded by a combination of equity and debt.

As a new technology, gas fermentation must necessarily challenge the status quo but it also highlights the challenges legislators face when encountering such innovations which do not fit easily into the present frameworks. When it comes to the challenge of obtaining financial support, such innovative processes require both public and private investment in order to surmount the many barriers towards commercialization. The development of gas fermentation requires a stable and technology- neutral legislative framework that supports a long term, low carbon fuels market. Such a framework will promote investment in new technologies and drive forward production of low carbon fuels, such as those obtained from gas fermentation, that are vital if we are to meet our 2 degree climate goals. Carbon recycling through gas fermentation enables a sustainable economy with both environmental and economic benefits to be created, but it also requires a paradigm shift in thinking to recognize that carbon does not have to be seen as a liability but can offer global and beneficial opportunities.


As the end product from this plant will be fuel-grade ethanol, it is logical to compare the CO2 emissions reduction to that of fossil fuel used for transport. The fossil fuel comparator in Europe is currently 83.8 g CO2eq/Mj but is expected to increase. This increase will automatically mean an improvement of the LanzaTech ethanol Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The above infographic is from two, 3rd party, Life Cycle Assessments. Both reports point towards a GHG emission reduction of >75% compared to fossil fuel.

If the waste gases were combusted instead of recycled (as in electricity production) , in addition to CO2, pollutants such as NOx, SOx and PM 2.5 would be emitted locally. By capturing the gas before it is combusted, the process reduces these emissions by over 85%.

By recycling carbon, fossil molecules are kept in the ground. Every tonne of ethanol that is produced with LanzaTech technology can replace 5.2 barrels of gasoline.

Potential for scaling up

Gas fermentation is an innovative technology, not yet implemented on a global scale but is thought to have a good potential to be scaled up. Recycling of carbon is new, unlike recycling of glass, paper, plastic and even steel.

Over the past 10 years, LanzaTech’s gas fermentation technology has been taken from the lab through pilot testing and demonstrated at scale at three separate sites, with two facilities operating at a capacity of 300 tpa. The process has been shown to be extremely robust, with over 40,000 hours of total run time and multiple runs of >1,200 hours (50 days) operating above design specifications. LanzaTech is currently in the process of building its first commercial-scale units, recycling steel mill gas, in partnership with the world’s largest steel producer, ArcelorMittal, in Belgium and with China Steel in Taiwan. These first commercial units will begin operation in early 2017 with planned capacities of 60,000 and 150,000 metric tons per year. The Beijing Shougang LanzaTech New Energy Technology Co. Ltd. will be breaking ground on building a first commercial facility in mainland China, in Caofeidian.

In Taiwan, full financing has been approved by the steel mill where the commercial unit will be built. In Belgium, on top of the funds provided by the European Union, additional public-private investment is needed for the construction of further innovative projects .

What helps secure investment in all countries is a stable legislative framework, particularly one which is technology- neutral and which enables ALL technology solutions to contribute to decarbonizing the transportation sector. In focusing on the reduction of carbon emissions, we must embrace all sustainable pathways to meeting that goal.

The plant in Ghent, Belgium, will be built in two phases; the 2nd phase is projected to be ready by 2018. A subsequent full roll out is envisaged at more ArcelorMittal European sites .

The roll out will require multi stakeholder partnerships involved in the whole supply chain, bringing about a radical change of attitude to and understanding of the carbon imperative and the value of recycling carbon. Furthermore, this new technology will not only be restricted to the production of ethanol; a variety of chemicals are part of the process portfolio, an example being aviation fuel produced by the conversion of ethanol to jet fuel using a partner-technology. A large stakeholder base is needed to recognize and embrace the advantages of this technology, with its wide array of input resources and new output products.

Selected references



Global (production facilities in China, USA, Taiwan and in 2017 Belgium)


2017 (commercial production)




Global, Mitigation, Passenger, Busses, Aviation, technology, Partnerships, Awareness


LanzaTech, ArcelorMittal


Freya Burton +16303478054

“Innovation has always been part of our commitment to finding solutions for the environmental challenges of steel manufacture,” said Carl DeMare Vice President Innovation, Arcelor Mittal. “We take into account not only the energy we save but the CO2 emissions we prevent. As the world's leading steel company, ArcelorMittal has an opportunity to take a leading role in the development of new clean energy technologies promoting climate friendly solutions that are relevant for the steel industry as a whole. By doing this, we will ensure that the steel we make becomes the material of choice for a sustainable future.”
-Carl de Mare, VP Innovation ArcelorMittal