The UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) reaffirmed last November 2021 the commitment to accelerate action on climate by reducing global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and achieve net-zero around mid-century. Such a challenge demands considering lessons learnt and expects major scientific breakthroughs. In such a context, the use of CO2 as a feedstock and its conversion into a sustainable product is an attractive alternative for accelerating the decarbonisation of the economy, boosting the development of Carbon Capture and Utilisation Technologies (CCUs). CCU technologies have the significant advantage of recycling CO2 into products for use in the chemical and food industries, or as building blocks to produce fertilizers, plastics, structural materials, fuels, or chemicals while reducing reliance on fossil-fuel resources. Product synthesis from CO2 can take a variety of forms, including physical, chemical, electrochemical, thermo-catalytic, or biological processes. The increased availability of low-cost, renewable electric energy makes electrochemical CO2 reduction the most sustainable route. Electrolysers for CO2 reduction are nearing commercialization, but challenges such as low product selectivity, high overpotentials, and the need for expensive and stable catalysts and high temperatures remain. There are a plethora of available CO2 bioconversion options. PANGEA proposes bioelectrochemical systems for the bio-electro conversion of CO2 into sustainable products. Activities are in line with CCUs approach and actions towards implementing new uses of renewable energy sources (especially their surpluses). There are still technical challenges to tackle before releasing bioelectrochemical systems to the market: (i) not competitive cost (CAPEX and OPEX), (ii) lack of successful upscaling attempts, (iii) production rates and process selectivity improvements and, iv) attempts using industrial CO2-containing flue gases. PANGEA aims at being a balance between innovation and maturity, aiming at a versatile and profitable product and requiring a trade-off between process innovation (process design and novel catalysts to enhance operational conditions). The know-how and resources obtained from previous projects in the group have become a fertile ground for PANGEA.
PANGEA is how scientists have named a supercontinent supposed to include all land above the sea level which existed 200-250 million years ago. In our mind, PANGEA aims at merging a continent of knowledge with a clear objective: to reach a threshold production level to elevate BES thechnologies to sustainable alternatives to fossil-based chemical production and contribute to the decarbonization of the economy. PANGEA will focus on ethanol (or ethanol:acetate mixtures) as a demonstrative product. Stablishing proof-of-concept studies on the use of new materials with high potential (electro-conductive membranes) and on the production of new products (odd-chain carboxylates such as valerate), will be also covered in PANGEA.
Principal investigators: Dr Sebastià Puig and Dr Jesús Colprim