Carbon dioxide (CO2) has become a systemic issue. CO2 is linked to burning of fossil fuels and, consequently, is the main responsible for climate change and its devastating effects. Moreover, its high concentration in enclosed spaces has negative effects on population health.
However, sometimes waste can turn out into a resource. This is the principle of the circular economy, and the basis of microbial electrosynthesis (MES), an innovative process that converts CO2 to useful biochemicals and biofuels using microorganisms, water and small amounts of renewable electricity. CO2 can be either collected from punctual sources (plumes from carbon-intensive industries), directly from the atmosphere, or even from indoor environments.
Although METs have already led to successful results at lab scale, we need more research for scale-up and commercialisation. This is the core of two projects recently initiated at LEQUIA research group of University of Girona: “ATMESPHERE” and “The MICRO-BIO Process”. “ATMESPHERE” will focus on the conversion of CO2 into caproate, a chemical widely used in the chemical industry and currently produced from fossil fuel sources, whereas “the MICRO-BIO Process” project will point out at the capture of CO2 from indoors and its further conversion to hexanol, which can be used as jet fuel.
ATMESPHERE project is led by Dr Paolo Dessì (Italy, 1989). Paolo has a PhD in Environmental Technology by Tampere University of Technology (Finland) and three years of post-doctoral experience at the National University of Ireland Galway (Ireland). His research will focus on the conversion of CO2 into caproate, which has several applications in the energy, food and chemical industries. To date, caproate has been only produced at low concentrations and purity. ATMESPHERE aims to push MES towards commercialisation by implementing a novel, resilient and sustainable biorefinery concept for selective production, extraction and concentration of high-grade caproate from CO2.
The principal investigator of the MICRO-BIO Process project is Dr Luis Rafael López de León (El Salvador, 1987). Luis has a PhD in Environmental Science and Technology from Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and three years of post-doctoral experience at Duke University (USA). The MICRO-BIO process is a new comprehensive platform to capture CO2 from indoor air and transform it into valuable carbon-neutral commodity chemicals like hexanol. Improving indoor air quality is of a great importance, since we spend between 80-90 % of our time in enclosed spaces such as schools, offices and public transportation vehicles. In these environments, fresh air supply can be very low, and CO2 levels can reach health-threatening levels.
ATMESPHERE and The Micro-Bio Process started in February 2022. Both are funded by prestigious post-doctoral “Marie Skłodowska Curie programme” of the European Commission and have a duration of two years.