Synthetically biologically-based products creator Intrexon Corp., said that Intrexon Energy Partners (IEP) and Dominion Energy entered an agreement to study potential for commercial-scale biological conversion of natural gas to isobutanol, Intrexon said Aug. 20.

Dominion Energy is a subsidiary of Dominion Resources.

Isobutanol is a drop-in fuel that has advantages over other clean-burning gasoline blendstocks, Intrexon said.

Optimized microbial cell lines will convert natural gas into higher carbon compounds such as isobutanol and farnesene under ambient temperatures and pressures. This approach avoids costly, resource-intensive thermochemical gas-to-liquids (GTL). It is also a biofuel that does not use sugar or other plant-based feedstock. Isobutanol is also economical, the company said, adding that small-scale demonstration plants could achieve profitability in the first year of production.

Isobutanol burns with less corrosion, holds more of gasoline's energy content allowing longer travel, is cheaper to blend with gas, and is compatible with the current petroleum infrastructure. Bloomberg New Energy Finance said that investment in butanol plants could reach $6 billion by 2020.

"We are excited to partner with IEP and help realize the promise of their GTL platform to harness a plentiful feedstock in natural gas for the bioproduction of isobutanol. Dominion is committed to being a good environmental steward while providing reliable, affordable energy services for our customers," said Diane Leopold, president.

Dominion Resources is based in Richmond, Va.

Intrexon Corp. is based in Germantown, Md.