Houston biotech startup will use microbes to make hydrogen from oil

Hydrogen bus Source: iStock/Scharfsinn86

Houston biotech startup Cemvita Factory is partnering with U.S. gas-equipment manufacturer Chart Industries Inc. to use oil-eating microbes to make hydrogen. 

The venture, which also includes engineering and consulting firm EXP and the Center for Houston’s Future, plans to deploy the microbes into depleted oil reservoirs that are ready to be plugged and abandoned, the companies said Thursday in an emailed statement. The technology would extend the life of the low-value wells and create a new revenue stream from so-called “gold hydrogen,” which is produced biologically and emissions-free underground.

Using both natural and genetically engineered microbes that require some supplemental nutrients, a well can make more than 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of hydrogen for each barrel of oil consumed as feedstock, Cemvita chief executive officer Moji Karimi said in an interview. 

The technology can make hydrogen for less than $1 per kilogram, the companies said. By comparison, emissions-free hydrogen made by a process known as wind-based water electrolysis costs between $4 to $6 per kilogram, according to figures compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. When burned, hydrogen only releases water vapor as a waste product, making it a prized fuel in the global transition to cleaner energy, but the cost of large-scale, emissions-free production remains a challenge. 

“Innovation and collaboration are critical to the future of hydrogen and the accomplishment of private and public carbon emission reduction goals,” Jill Evanko, CEO of Chart Industries, said in a statement. “Cemvita has a unique approach to this, and we are pleased to partner with another application that is likely to utilize Chart hydrogen and cryogenic equipment.”

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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