Living emission abolish filters (LEAFs) for methane mitigation: design and operation

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As one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane is a critical target for the near-term mitigation of global warming. Efficient, scalable, easy-to-implement, and robust mitigation technologies are urgently needed to assist in reaching methane abolishment. The goal of this research was to test the applicability of active, extremophilic methanotrophic cells as a baseline concept for engineered systems aiming at methane capturing. The system, named living emission abolish filters (LEAFs), represents an array of immobilized biomaterials capable of capturing methane directly from vent streams. The biomaterials were made using cells of Methylotuvimicrobium alcaliphilum 20ZR, a robust halophilic methanotrophic bacterium with the ability to consume methane gas at low concentrations. Several critical parameters were tested, including (i) the composition of the matrix and optimal immobilization to increase catalyst load, (ii) the stability of methanotrophic cells, and (iii) the toxicity of trace gases (i.e. CO). We found that hydrogels coated with 2.3 mg cell dry weight/cm3 methanotrophic cells represent the best-performing biomaterials. The methane reduction potential of LEAFs fluctuated from 20% to 95% and depended on the methane concentration in the gas stream and the stream flow rates. The potential for commercial-scale deployment and emissions reductions was also evaluated. Total greenhouse gas emissions (combined using the global warming potential GWP100) from an example using a ventilation air methane source over a one-year period was shown to be reduced in two LEAF scenarios by 51% and 75%. Over longer time horizons, more significant reductions are possible as consistent methane consumption can be sustained. The study highlights the overall potential of the liquid-free bio-based composite methane mitigation system. Further improvements essential for system assembly and implementations should include (a) optimization of the cell immobilization protocols to improve cell load and the shelf-life of the system and (b) implementation of matrix moldings for cell immobilization to achieve optimal gas flow and increase the cell-gas interface.

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Environmental Research Letters