Converting waste carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals

22 February 2022 | Muriel Cozier

‘…we can begin to take advantage of available carbon dioxide to transform the bioeconomy.’

A research team led by Northwestern University, Illinois, US, and LanzaTech have developed a way to use bacteria to break down waste carbon dioxide and create valuable industrial chemicals. Using Clostridium autoethanogenum, an anaerobic bacterium engineered at LanzaTech, and then employing synthetic biology tools to reprogram the bacterium to ferment carbon dioxide, the team successfully produced acetone and isopropanol. The research has been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The research team highlighted that not only does the new gas fermentation process remove greenhouse gases; it also avoids the use of fossil fuels typically used in the production of acetone and isopropanol. A life cycle analysis indicated that the carbon-negative platform could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 160% when compared with a conventional production process, if widely adopted. Acetone and IPA have a combined global market of more than $10 billion. IPA is the basis for one of the two World Health Organisation recommended sanitizer formulas effective at killing the SARs-CoV-2 virus, acetone is a widely use solvent. It is anticipated that the developed strains and fermentation process will translate to industrial scale.

Michael Jewett, Walter P Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and director of the Centre for Synthetic Biology said; ‘By harnessing our capacity to partner with biology to make what is needed, where and when it is needed, on a sustainable and renewable basis, we can begin to take advantage of available carbon dioxide to transform the bioeconomy.’

LanzaTech’s CEO, Jennifer Holmgren added; ‘The acetone and IPA pathways developed, will accelerate the development of other new products by closing the carbon cycle for their use in multiple industries.’

DOI: 10.1038/s41587-021-01195-w

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