Carbon utilisation with Industrial Biotech!
It is understood that the magnitude of the negative effects of climate change largely depends on the extent that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be mitigated. In an effort to address this challenge, a series of pioneering companies have developed technologies to use some of these GHGs as a feedstock for industrial processes. In addition to its potential to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, the use of fossil carbon gases as a feedstock for industrial biotechnology represents a sustainable solution to resource scarcity as it does not compete with the food chain, it is independent of biomass sourcing and it is based on circular economy principles.
As an alternative to carbon capture and storage techniques, the following examples illustrate carbon capture and utilisation technologies that use industrial biotechnology processes to convert methane, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into useful products. While some pathways enable the direct conversion of waste gases into the desired product, most currently available technologies rely on hydrogen as an energy source and may be more effective when using syngas (CO+H2).
Among all GHG gases, CO2 emissions are most present in the earth’s atmosphere and the biggest contributor to climate change. A series of highly innovative companies are looking at using emitted CO2 to turn it into useful products.
The direct conversion of CO2 can be accomplished thanks to engineered cyanobacteria which excrete desired compounds when exposed to light. And get this: the only byproduct is oxygen. The Dutch company Photanol is doing just that in order to respond to current and emerging feedstock supply issues. At the moment, the company is set on delivering alternatives for products in the flavours and fragrances market, and for the food industry. In the long-term, the company aims to substitute bulk chemicals and fuels. US company Phytonix on the other hand has gone for the commodity option from the very start. Using the same technological principle as Photanol (watch the explanatory video here), Phytonix produces n-butanol which can be used in a broad array of fuels and chemicals, including jet fuels, bioplastics and synthetic rubber.
The direct utilisation of industrial CO2 sources can also be realised by naturally occurring and very old types of microorganisms. In the presence of a hydrogen source, these tiny organisms turn CO2 into methane which can be used in transport, for electricity storage and many more applications. See start-up company Krajete illustrate this technology here. Other innovative companies such as OPX Biotechnologies are genetically modifying certain features of microbes to make them grow using only CO2 and hydrogen, and excrete biobased acrylic, fatty acids and other products.
On the non-direct conversion, but nonetheless fantastic side, Terraverdae Bioworks uses green methanol as a building block for biocomposites, biopolymers, and industrial chemicals. The green methanol is produced from waste CO2 gases and hydrogen obtained from hydrolysis. The technology also contributes to significant life cycle and carbon footprint improvements and produces sustainable alternatives to petroleum-derived plastics, composites and chemicals.
With a global warming potential (GWP) 25 times higher than CO2, methane emissions are one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Whether from fossil or other sources, the way methane can be used as a raw material for innovative applications provides opportunities to mitigate methane emissions and realise carbon neutral processes.
“Calysta converts energy-rich methane into building blocks for life”
The company’s core activity revolves around the production of methane-based proteins for animal feed, especially fishmeal. Calysta Nutrition’s overall aim is to provide sustainable and long-term solutions to the growing food industry by means of a reliable alternative to animal-derived proteins and supplements. However, the company’s biocatalysis technology also enables the conversion of methane sources into liquid hydrocarbons at close to ambient temperatures and is, unlike chemical routes, especially fit for the conversion of small-scale methane sources such as deposits of shale gas, landfills and so-called ‘stranded gas’. Furthermore, the company is involved in a longstanding research project on lactic acid with Natureworks which has very recently successfully attracted a $2.5 million grant from the US government.
Another US company, Mango Materials, is focused upon turning methane into valuable products. This pioneering start-up actually uses CH4 to generate PHA, an intermediate chemical which is used in the production of biodegradable plastics. Have a look at this eco-friendly process below:
· CO + CO2 + CH4
Initially founded in New Zealand, LanzaTech has grown to be a global and leading company in (syn)gas fermentation technology. Lanzatech’s proprietary microbe is a naturally-occurring, gas-fermenting organism which produces ethanol and other fuels, as well as building blocks for rubber, plastic and synthetic fibres while reducing carbon emissions at the source. In a recent partnership with an Indian Research Centre, the company has developed a pathway that uses carbon dioxide emissions to produce omega-3 rich fatty acids.