Biological conversion of CO2 to the platform chemical 3-hydroxypropanoic acid
Acronym: CO2CHEM

Project coordinator
- Peter Dürre - University of Ulm - Germany

Project leaders
- Volker Müller - University of Frankfurt - Germany
- Nigel P. Minton - University of Nottingham - United Kingdom
- Alex Toftgaard Nielsen - Technical University of Denmark - Denmark
- Manfred Baldauf - Siemens AG - Germany
- Sean Simpson - Lanza Tech - United Kingdom

Current energy and chemical needs are met by the extraction and processing of the fossil fuels. Such resources are finite and their use causes environmental pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The challenge facing humankind is, therefore, to identify new, sustainable and cleaner processes for chemical and energy generation. Biological routes represent a promising option, but strategies to date rely on the use of microbes to convert through fermentation the easily accessible carbohydrates (sugar and starch) of plants (such as sugar cane or corn) into chemicals and fuels. This has led to concerns over competition with the use of these carbohydrates as food, and a
re-focussing of efforts on non-food, plant cell wall material (lignocellulose). However, lignocellulose is extremely resistant to being broken down into the sugar needed for fermentation. Overcoming this recalcitrance in a cost effective manner is proving extremely challenging.

There is, however, an exciting low-cost alternative, and that is to directly capture carbon, by harnessing the ability of certain bacteria to ‘eat’ single carbon GHG gases such as CO2. The gas is injected into the liquid medium of fermentation vessels where it is consumed by the bacteria and converted into the chemicals we need. Fortunately, such gases are an abundant resource, and may be derived from non-food sources such as waste gases from industry as well as ‘synthesis gas’ produced from the gasification (heating) of non-food biomass and domestic/ agricultural wastes. In this project, we will use this technology to make the platform chemical hydroxypropanoic acid.  It has a multitude of uses, including the manufacture of plastics, coatings, adhesives, floor polishes and paints. By using non-food, waste gas as a feedstock, competition with food and land resources is avoided while at the same time providing benefits to the environment and society through a reduction in GHG emissions.