Biological CO2 Conversion for Low Carbon Chemicals

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research


What it is

Biological CO2 conversion employs microorganisms, such as bacteria, algae, and fungi, to transform carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into valuable chemicals, biofuels, and biomaterials. This sustainable approach leverages nature’s inherent ability to fix carbon, offering a promising solution for both mitigating climate change and creating a circular carbon economy.

Impact on climate action

Biological CO2 Conversion revolutionizes low-carbon chemicals by harnessing natural processes to convert CO2 emissions into valuable compounds, mitigating climate change. By replacing traditional, high-emission methods with sustainable biological processes, it significantly reduces greenhouse gas footprints in chemical and fertilizer production, advancing global efforts towards carbon neutrality.

Underlying
Technology

  • Photosynthesis: Photosynthetic organisms, like algae and cyanobacteria, utilize sunlight, water, and CO2 to produce organic compounds, effectively capturing and converting carbon dioxide.
  • Microbial Fermentation: Certain bacteria and fungi can ferment CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels, such as ethanol, lactic acid, and methane, through various metabolic pathways.
  • Biocatalysts: Enzymes and other biocatalysts derived from microorganisms can be used to facilitate specific CO2 conversion reactions, enhancing efficiency and selectivity.
  • Metabolic Engineering: Scientists are using genetic engineering and synthetic biology to modify the metabolic pathways of microorganisms, enhancing their ability to convert CO2 into desired products.
  • Bioreactors: Bioreactors provide controlled environments for cultivating microorganisms and optimizing CO2 conversion processes.

TRL : Varies depending on the specific product and technology. Some biological CO2 conversion processes, like algae-based biofuel production, are at TRL 6-7 and nearing commercialization. Other processes, involving the production of more complex chemicals, are still in the research and development phase (TRL 3-5).

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Genetic Engineering for Enhanced CO2 Fixation: Scientists are engineering microorganisms to improve their CO2 fixation efficiency, increase product yields, and expand the range of products that can be produced from CO2.
  • Hybrid Biological-Electrochemical Systems: Combining biological CO2 conversion with electrochemical methods can enhance efficiency and enable the production of a wider range of products.
  • Biomining for CO2 Sequestration: Certain microorganisms can precipitate minerals, such as carbonates, that bind CO2, effectively sequestering carbon in a stable form.
  • Waste-to-Value CO2 Conversion: Integrating biological CO2 conversion with waste treatment processes can utilize CO2 emissions from waste streams to produce valuable products, creating a circular economy approach.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Photosynthetic Carbon Capture
  • Microbial Fermentation Pathways
  • Biocatalytic CO2 Conversion
  • Metabolic Engineering for CO2 Utilization
  • Controlled Environment Bioreactors
  • Algae-Based Biofuel Development
  • Enhanced CO2 Fixation Strategies
  • Biological-Electrochemical Hybrid Systems
  • Waste-to-Value CO2 Conversion
  • Synthetic Biology for CO2 Transformation
  • Algal Biorefinery Processes
  • CO2-Based Chemical Synthesis
  • Microbial Carbon Recycling
  • Enzymatic CO2 Conversion Catalysts
  • Bio-Based Methane Production
  • Carbon-Neutral Chemical Manufacturing
  • Sustainable Biomaterials from CO2
  • Microbial CO2 Conversion Optimization

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Newlight Technologies:
    • Technology Focus: Newlight Technologies specializes in converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into biodegradable materials and products. They likely employ biotechnology and microbial processes to capture and utilize CO2 as a feedstock for the production of plastics or other materials.
    • Uniqueness: Newlight stands out for its innovative approach to addressing both environmental and material challenges by transforming CO2, a greenhouse gas, into valuable and sustainable products. Their technology has the potential to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate carbon emissions.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include industries seeking sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics, such as packaging, textiles, consumer goods, and construction.
  • Photanol:
    • Technology Focus: Photanol focuses on utilizing photosynthetic microorganisms to convert CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels using renewable energy sources like sunlight. They likely employ synthetic biology and metabolic engineering to optimize microbial pathways for efficient CO2 conversion.
    • Uniqueness: Photanol’s approach leverages nature-inspired processes to harness solar energy and convert CO2 into high-value chemicals, such as biofuels or specialty chemicals. Their technology offers a sustainable alternative to conventional chemical synthesis methods.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include industries requiring renewable chemicals and fuels, such as bioenergy, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and specialty chemicals.
  • LanzaTech:
    • Technology Focus: LanzaTech specializes in microbial fermentation technologies that convert CO2 and carbon monoxide (CO) from industrial emissions into valuable products like ethanol and other chemicals. They likely employ bioreactors and genetic engineering to optimize microbial strains for CO2 conversion.
    • Uniqueness: LanzaTech is known for its unique approach to carbon recycling, turning waste emissions into useful commodities. Their technology enables carbon capture and utilization, offering a sustainable solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include heavy industries with significant carbon emissions, such as steel manufacturing, oil refining, chemical production, and power generation.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of California, Berkeley (USA):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at UC Berkeley are pioneering the use of biological systems, such as engineered microorganisms or enzymes, to convert CO2 into valuable chemicals and fertilizers. They are leveraging synthetic biology techniques to design and optimize biological pathways for efficient carbon capture and utilization.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC Berkeley’s approach involves the development of genetically engineered organisms capable of converting CO2 into target products with high specificity and yield. They are exploring novel enzyme catalysts and metabolic pathways to enable selective CO2 fixation and conversion under ambient conditions.
    • End-use Applications: The research at UC Berkeley has broad applications in the chemical, agricultural, and environmental sectors. For example, bio-based chemicals produced from CO2 can serve as alternatives to traditional petrochemicals, while CO2-derived fertilizers can improve soil fertility and crop yields without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Wageningen University & Research (Netherlands):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Wageningen University & Research are investigating various biological systems, including microalgae, bacteria, and fungi, for CO2 conversion and utilization. They are optimizing cultivation conditions and metabolic pathways to maximize CO2 fixation and product synthesis.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Wageningen’s research integrates expertise in bioprocess engineering, microbiology, and environmental science to develop sustainable solutions for CO2 utilization. They are exploring the potential of mixed microbial cultures and consortia to enhance CO2 conversion rates and product diversity.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Wageningen University & Research has applications in renewable energy, food production, and waste management. CO2-derived biofuels, bioplastics, and biofertilizers are among the potential products that can contribute to a low-carbon economy and circular bioeconomy.
  • Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology (Germany):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology are investigating the microbial communities and enzymatic pathways involved in CO2 fixation and conversion in natural ecosystems. They are leveraging metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approaches to identify novel enzymes and metabolic strategies for CO2 utilization.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The institute’s research focuses on understanding the fundamental mechanisms of microbial CO2 metabolism and ecosystem dynamics. They are exploring how microbial communities interact with their environment to drive carbon cycling and nutrient cycling processes.
    • End-use Applications: The research at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology has implications for carbon sequestration, soil restoration, and bioremediation. By harnessing microbial diversity and function, it may be possible to develop innovative strategies for mitigating climate change and enhancing ecosystem resilience.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

While biological CO2 conversion is still primarily in the research and development stage, several promising applications are nearing commercialization:

  • Algae-based Biofuels: Companies like Algae.Tec and Sapphire Energy are developing commercial-scale algae cultivation systems for biofuel production, utilizing CO2 as a feedstock.
  • Bioplastics from CO2: Newlight Technologies has commercialized its AirCarbon technology, producing bioplastic products from CO2 and methane.