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Biogas Upgrading and Waste-to-Energy

NREL's waste-to-energy (WTE) team seeks pathways to use biomass waste feedstock—primarily methane from current waste treatment processes—to recover energy and produce fuels and chemicals. We focus on techno-economic analysis and the research and development required for upgrading biogas to fuels and high-value co-products.

Featured Publications

Bioconversion of methane to lactate by an obligate methanotrophic bacterium, Scientific Reports (2016)

Bioconversion of Natural Gas to Liquid Fuel: Opportunities and Challenges, Biotechnology Advances (2014)

Biogas Potential in the United States, NREL Fact Sheet (2013)

View all NREL biogas upgrading and waste-to-energy publications.

Illustration showing, at the top, a red sphere labeled "MMO" and a grey oval labeled "MDH" superimposed on a rectangular shape composed of a double row of pale green spheres overlapping in a horizatonal line with vertical lines connecting the two rows of spheres; the top row is labeled "periplasm" and the bottom row is labeled "cytoplasm". CH4 goes into the MMO sphere and comes out CH3OH; CH3OH goes into the MDH oval and comes out CH2O2; CH2O2 goes into an orange sphere labeled "RuMP"; RuMP has a black arrow going into a  yellow sphere labeled "EMP"; EMP has an arrow leading to pyruvate which than has a double arrow leading to fuels and chemicals.

Methane Conversion to Liquid Fuels and Chemicals Using a Methanotrophic Biocatalyst

NREL is working to valorize biogas and natural gas through the development of biological methane upgrading strategies, targeting conversion of methane to liquid fuels and chemicals. Research activities for these multi-institutional projects encompass strain development, high-productivity gas fermentation process development, product recovery and upgrading, and techno-economic analysis.

Contact: Michael Guarnieri

A map of the United States illustrating wastewater treatment plants in the country with the wastewater flow (million gallons per day) represented by large (greater than 50) to small (less than 5) blue dots.

Waste Feedstocks

We inventory WTE feedstocks—waste fat, oil, and greases; municipal solid wastes; biosolids (from wastewater treatment facilities); biorefinery residues and biogas—and work to address feedstock data gaps and quality issues, inventory feedstock characteristics, and estimate the biofuels potential from these resources.

Contact: Anelia Milbrandt

Illustration with three right-pointing arrows on the left (in gradations of orange) labeled (from top to bottom) "Feedstock Composition," "Operating Conditions," and "Conversion Yields." The arrows point to "Plant Model in Aspen Plus" with a yellow Aspen Plus logo. A blue arrow below the logo is labeled "Product Yield" and points right to "gal". A blue arrow to the right of the logo is labeled" and points right to an icon of an Excel spreadsheet labeled "Equipment and Raw Material Accounting." A green arrow labeled "Cost" points right from the Excel icon to "MSFP Minimum Fuel Selling Price $" that sits over a division bar over "gal".

Waste-to-Energy Techno-Economic Analysis

We perform techno-economic analysis (TEA) for converting waste feedstocks to power, fuels, and bioproducts to compare different conversion pathways for utilizing waste materials, as well as to support the renewable energy mission, provide economic variability, environmental sustainability, and support decision-making at different levels.

Contact: Ling Tao

A map of the United States illustrating methane generation potential from biogas sources in the country with thousand tonnes per year represented by red (greater than 10), purple (5 to 10), turqouise (2.5 to 5), yellow (1 to 2.5), and grey (less than 1) shapes.

Waste-to-Energy System Simulation Model

NREL's waste-to-energy system simulation model is designed to develop and analyze scenarios that explore the evolution of the waste-to-energy industry and determine how WTE fuel technologies may be deployed in such a way that they make a significant contribution to the country's transportation energy.

Contact: Danny Inman

Research Team

Photo of a group of smiling men and women in a wintry outdoor setting.

Principal Investigators

Postdoctoral Researchers

Yanan Zhang

Technicians/Technical Support

Holly Smith

Related and Integrated Programs

Analysis and Characterization

Biochemical Processes

WTE Combustion, Gasification, and Anaerobic Digestion On-Site Evaluation


Argonne National Laboratory (Life-Cycle and Sustainability Analysis)

Farmatic, Inc.

Johnson Matthey


Metabolon, Inc.

North Carolina State University

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Analysis and Sustainability Interface)

San Diego State University

University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) with Lockheed Martin (Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program [SERDP] projects, PI Kim Magrini)

University of Washington


This program is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office.