Biological CO2 Conversion

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Biological CO2 conversion utilizes living organisms, primarily microorganisms like bacteria and algae, to transform carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable products such as biofuels, bioplastics, proteins, and other chemicals. This approach leverages the natural power of photosynthesis and other biological processes to capture and utilize CO2, offering a sustainable and potentially carbon-negative solution for mitigating climate change.

Impact on climate action

Biological CO2 Conversion revolutionizes climate action by harnessing natural processes to transform CO2 into valuable resources. This innovation mitigates emissions, fostering sustainable practices. By converting CO2 into tangible value, it incentivizes eco-friendly behaviors, offering a transformative solution to combat climate change and propel a greener future.


Biological CO2 conversion relies on several key concepts:

  • Photosynthesis: Photosynthetic organisms, like algae and cyanobacteria, naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and use sunlight to convert it into organic compounds, releasing oxygen as a byproduct.
  • Microbial Fermentation: Certain microorganisms can consume CO2 as a carbon source during fermentation, producing various valuable compounds like organic acids, biofuels, and bioplastics.
  • Genetic Engineering: Scientists can genetically modify microorganisms to enhance their ability to consume CO2 and produce desired products, improving the efficiency and output of biological conversion processes.

TRL : 3-7 (depending on the specific product and technology)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Designer Microbes: Researchers are engineering microbes with enhanced CO2 fixation capabilities and improved production of target compounds. This involves optimizing metabolic pathways and introducing new genes to enhance specific enzymatic activities.
  • Closed Photobioreactors: Advanced closed photobioreactors are being developed to cultivate photosynthetic organisms under controlled conditions, maximizing CO2 absorption and light utilization for efficient biomass production.
  • Co-culturing of Microorganisms: Combining different microorganisms with complementary metabolic capabilities can enhance the efficiency and product diversity of biological CO2 conversion.
  • Biorefinery Integration: Integrating biological CO2 conversion with biorefinery processes can enable the production of multiple valuable products from CO2 and biomass, maximizing resource utilization and economic viability.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Photosynthetic Carbon Capture
  • Microbial Fermentation Pathways
  • Genetic Engineering for CO2 Utilization
  • Designer Microbial Strains
  • Closed Photobioreactor Systems
  • Optimization of CO2 Fixation Pathways
  • Enhanced Enzymatic Activities
  • Advanced Algal Cultivation Techniques
  • Co-culture Synergies for CO2 Conversion
  • Carbon-Negative Bioproduction
  • Sustainable Biofuel Development
  • Bioplastic Synthesis from CO2
  • Protein Production from Microbial Fermentation
  • High-Value Chemicals from CO2
  • Microbial Carbon Recycling

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Algenol:
    • Technology Focus: Algenol specializes in using algae to convert CO2 into biofuels and other valuable products. Their technology involves genetically engineered algae strains that efficiently convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into ethanol and other chemicals.
    • Uniqueness: One unique aspect of Algenol is their use of algae as a sustainable and scalable solution for CO2 conversion. They have developed proprietary bioreactor systems and cultivation techniques to optimize algae growth and productivity.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions are relevant for industries seeking carbon-neutral alternatives to fossil fuels, such as transportation, aviation, and energy production. Additionally, their technology can be applied in wastewater treatment and carbon capture applications.
  • Kiverdi:
    • Technology Focus: Kiverdi focuses on using microorganisms to convert waste carbon sources, including CO2, into high-value products such as protein-rich food ingredients, biomaterials, and biochemicals. Their technology platform utilizes synthetic biology and fermentation processes.
    • Uniqueness: Kiverdi stands out for its versatile approach to biological CO2 conversion, offering solutions for both environmental remediation and the production of sustainable products. They have developed innovative bioreactor designs and fermentation techniques to enhance efficiency and scalability.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions cater to a wide range of industries, including food and agriculture, biotechnology, and materials manufacturing. By repurposing waste carbon streams, they enable circular economy models and contribute to resource efficiency.
  • Phycobloom:
    • Technology Focus: Phycobloom specializes in harnessing microalgae for CO2 sequestration and bioenergy production. Their technology involves cultivating specific strains of microalgae in controlled environments to maximize CO2 uptake and biomass productivity.
    • Uniqueness: Phycobloom differentiates itself through its focus on utilizing native microalgae species for CO2 conversion, emphasizing ecosystem compatibility and biodiversity preservation. They employ advanced cultivation methods and photobioreactor systems to optimize algae growth and carbon capture.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions are relevant for industries seeking carbon offsetting solutions, such as power plants, industrial facilities, and agricultural operations. Additionally, their biomass can be used for biofuel production, animal feed, and pharmaceutical applications.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Wageningen University & Research:
    • Technology Enhancements: Wageningen University & Research is pioneering biological CO2 conversion technologies by harnessing the power of microorganisms and enzymes. They are employing genetic engineering techniques to enhance the efficiency and specificity of CO2 conversion pathways within microbial systems.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The research at Wageningen focuses on developing novel biocatalysts capable of efficiently converting CO2 into value-added products such as biofuels, biochemicals, and biopolymers. Their approach integrates fundamental insights from microbiology, bioprocess engineering, and synthetic biology to design tailored solutions for CO2 utilization.
    • End-use Applications: The biological CO2 conversion technologies developed at Wageningen have diverse applications in industries ranging from renewable energy and agriculture to pharmaceuticals and waste management. For instance, CO2-derived biofuels can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, while CO2-based biochemicals can serve as sustainable alternatives to petrochemicals in various manufacturing processes.
  • University of California, San Diego:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at UC San Diego are advancing biological CO2 conversion technologies through metabolic engineering and systems biology approaches. They are engineering microorganisms such as cyanobacteria and yeast to efficiently capture and convert CO2 into valuable products under ambient conditions.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC San Diego’s research leverages cutting-edge tools and techniques from molecular biology, synthetic biology, and computational modeling to design optimized CO2 conversion pathways. Their interdisciplinary approach enables the development of robust microbial platforms capable of converting CO2 into a wide range of products with high yield and selectivity.
    • End-use Applications: The biological CO2 conversion technologies developed at UC San Diego have broad applications in sustainable biomanufacturing, carbon capture, and renewable energy production. For example, CO2-derived chemicals and materials can be used in the production of bioplastics, pharmaceuticals, and specialty chemicals, contributing to the transition towards a circular carbon economy.
  • Technical University of Munich:
    • Technology Enhancements: The Technical University of Munich is at the forefront of research on biological CO2 conversion technologies, particularly focusing on novel biocatalysts and reactor designs. They are developing innovative bioreactor systems that enable efficient mass transfer of CO2 and nutrients to microbial cultures, enhancing productivity and scalability.
    • Uniqueness of Research: TUM’s research integrates process engineering principles with biotechnology to optimize the performance and stability of CO2-converting microorganisms in industrial-scale bioreactors. Their research also explores the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power to drive CO2 conversion processes, enhancing their sustainability.
    • End-use Applications: The biological CO2 conversion technologies developed at TUM have applications in various sectors, including food and beverage, cosmetics, and environmental remediation. For instance, CO2-derived biomolecules can be used as ingredients in food and cosmetic formulations, while CO2 bioconversion processes can be deployed for carbon capture and utilization in wastewater treatment plants and biogas facilities.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

While large-scale commercial deployment of biological CO2 conversion is still in its early stages, several pilot projects and partnerships are showing promising results:

  • Algenol: Has built a demonstration facility in Florida to showcase their algae-based biofuel production technology.
  • Kiverdi: Is working with partners in various industries to pilot their CO2 conversion technology for the production of bio-oils and other chemicals.