University of Tübingen: This is how CO2 becomes a valuable resource

The environmental biotechnologist Lars Angenent from Tübingen and his team are involved in a new research center that aims to develop technologies for the capture, storage and recycling of carbon dioxide (CO2). The interdisciplinary center will be funded by the Danish “Novo Nordisk” foundation with 84.7 million euros in the coming years.

Located at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, the center will cooperate with Angenent’s team in Tübingen and other research institutions from the USA, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark. Partnerships with industry are also intended to ensure that basic research is put into practice quickly.

CO2 in the atmosphere is a major cause of climate change. In order to contain the rise in temperatures worldwide, it is not only necessary to reduce CO2 emissions. To do this, carbon dioxide would also have to be removed from the atmosphere and reused in products that are currently based on carbon, i.e. obtained from fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

In the new center, teams from chemistry, life sciences and systems analysis are jointly researching technologies that can be used to recycle CO2 from the atmosphere as well as from industrial plants and power plants. For example, carbon dioxide, water and electrons could be converted into raw materials for new plastics with the help of bacteria and electrochemistry. The subject of research is also a system that uses microorganisms to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, thus replacing the use of fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil and natural gas.

At the University of Tübingen, Lars Angenent is researching how such CO2 separations from industry and the atmosphere can be coupled with biological systems: His team feeds these together with hydrogen into “bioreactors”. With the help of microbial cultures, new products can be created there. One of the focal points of this project is the question of how different microbes can optimally work together to produce specific chemicals for industry in a targeted and environmentally friendly manner. The processes are initially being tested on a small scale in the laboratory and will later also be implemented in large systems.

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