CO2 to Bioplastics, Biochemicals Using Microorganisms – RWE, BRAIN Partnership

This entry was posted by Saturday, 16 January, 2010
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At my company, we had been doing a good amount of work last six months to understand the latest efforts and innovations being attempted in sequestering CO2 from power plant emissions.

One of the areas we had been doing research was in converting the CO2 into useful products that have market values. This concept is exciting for two reasons: (1) It is a novel method of CO2 capture, and (2) It can make the entire CO2 sequestration efforts more sustainable.

I must admit that the findings of our research were not all together positive. Our preliminary conclusion was that, outside of using it for cement making, there are few products that can utilize exhaust CO2 in a sustainable and scalable manner in order to make any meaningful difference to the global CO2 mitigation efforts. Using CO2 for plastics appeared to be an exciting area, but we figured that neither the technical nor the economic feasibility was anywhere close to being clear.

Our research was only a preliminary research, and we plan to resume the research from where we left in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, this press release caught my eyes “RWE Power, BRAIN Join Forces in White Biotech: Co-Operation on CO2 as Raw Material for New Products”. Naturally, I was excited to know more about it.

Well, this is the essence of the press release:”To convert carbon dioxide into microbial biomass or biomolecules: such is the goal of co-operative research agreed between RWE Power and BRAIN AG from Zwingenberg. The power generator and the biotech company want to equip micro-organisms” with new enzymes and explore innovative synthesis-routes and pathways. Flue gas, rich in CO2 from a lignite-fired power station, feeds these designer micro-organisms. The process creates biomass and industrial products such as new biomaterials, bioplastics and chemical by-products. Possible applications, now being explored, include building and isolation materials and the production of fine and specialty chemicals. An experimental plant is to be located at RWE Power’s Coal Innovation Centre, at its Niederaussem power plant site.”

OK, so the folks are trying to use designer micro-organisms and figure out if they could arrive at useful end products as a result. This is not exactly unheard of – during our research, we had come across a few companies that were attempting to produce products from CO2 using microbes and biotech pathways, but most of them were small labs and universities, or small companies. So it is good to know that some large companies are making some efforts in this domain as well.

RWE is a well-known power company which also has been pioneering quite a few CCS efforts. But I knew little about B.R.A.I.N (oh well, that’s the way the company represent themselves!). Here’s something more about them – http://www.brain-biotech.de/en/about.html . An European biotech company, they appear to have been more focussed on chemicals, food and pharma industries thus far, with their biocatalysts, enzymes and other bio-based intermediaries. The GHG abatement industry must be a new one for them.

It is with some disappointment that I saw that there were few insights into what the companies actually planned to poduce in terms of end products. Will be keenly watching their updates.


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