The group takes part in five research projects within this field and will host the reference European conference in September 2020
LEQUIA staff is growing. Dr Sebastià Puig, so far interim senior professor, has been selected by an international jury as Associate professor “Serra Húnter” of Chemical Engineering at University of Girona. Besides consolidating the group, this position makes LEQUIA research on bioelectrochemical systems more international and more competitive.
Bioelectrochemical systems are emergent technologies that utilise electric properties of microorganisms. Its study dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century, when for the first time it was proved that some bacteria could produce electric power from organic compounds present in polluted waters. However, it was not until two decades ago that this extraordinary finding attracted the interest of the scientific community. At present, electro-microbiology is a discipline with numerous environmental and energy applications, and one international society for microbial electrotechnologies, ISMET, that keeps growing.
Ten years of research in bioelectrochemical systems
LEQUIA research on bioelectrochemical systems was initiated in 2008 by Dr Jesús Colprim and Dr Maria Dolors Balaguer. Sebastià Puig, who had just defended his doctoral thesis, decided to focus his research on these emergent technologies and follow a multidisciplinary approach based on international collaboration. Within UdG, alliances were forged with the Research Group of Molecular Microbial Ecology (geMM; Dr Lluís Bañeras) and in Europa the group worked with renowned institution like University of Gent (Belgium) of UFZ Leipzig (Germany). Ten years later, the results speak for themselves: four doctoral thesis defended and four under development –three of them awarded; three industrial patents; four national research projects; research contracts with private companies; and three European projects, two of them funded by Horizon 2020 programme. This solid track record leads to the organisation by Dr Puig of next edition of EU-ISMET, the European reference conference in electro-microbiology.
From wastewater treatment to biofuel production
Sebastià Puig takes up this position at a great time at the individual and group level. Currently, LEQUIA participates in five research projects on bioelectrochemical systems focused on two types of industrial applications: water bioremediation and bioconversion of carbon dioxide into high added value products. Sebastià Puig is the principal investigator of three of them (ELECTRA, WAFRA and BioRECO2VER) and the co-principal investigator, together with Dr Jesús Colprim, of Spanish project COOMET. Moreover, Dr Jesús Colprim coordinates project DigesTake, which has a whole WP devoted to research on microbial electrotechnologies.
In the water bioremediation field, LEQUIA has focused on nitrates removal. In Catalonia these compounds are responsible for groundwater pollution. This is the scope of euro-chinese project ELECTRA, initiated in January 2019. However, regulating the content of nitrogen compounds is also needed to prevent pollution in other sectors such as aquaculture or aquaponics –which integrates hydroponics and aquaculture. LEQUIA will investigate the utilisation of electromicrobiology in such systems in EU project WAFRA.
As for the bioconversion of carbon dioxide into high added value products, two key environmental problems of the XXI century are addressed: climate change and resource depletion. Bioelectrochemical systems are able to transform carbon dioxide into longer chain organic compounds valuable for the chemical industry or as biofuels. Thus, in European project BioRECO2VER the goal is to produce isobutene and lactate; in project COOMET funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science bioconversion is focused on the production of carboxylic acid, butyrate, butanol and ethanol; and in project DigesTake (community RIS3CatAigua, ACCIÓ, Catalonia Government) upgrades biogas from wastewater treatment plants to convert carbon dioxide into volatile fatty acids.
A reference European conference in Girona
The wide range of applications of LEQUIA projects shows the great potential and the multidisciplinary character of bioelectrochemical systems. In this sense, the fifth edition of EU-ISMET conference in September 2020 will bring to Girona research groups from around the world to disseminate the results of their works while exchanging knowledge and experience in this field. It will be a step forward to deploy electromicrobiology in the near future.