We want to make our societies more sustainable by developing innovative biotechnology-production platforms in the lab that can be translated into the real world. With this development and translation of technology, we aspire to make an impact on reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere or by combining carbon capture and utilization into useful products. In our research group and spin-off start-up companies, microbes that originated from our environment are put to work in bioreactors to make biological conversions. Through gas fermentation, it is even possible to use CO2 and/or carbon monoxide (CO) as a carbon course by feeding in gases as the only substrate.
Environmental Biotechnology is closely aligned with finding technological solutions to our biggest societal problems that have to do with the rapid deterioration of our environment. However, we do not lose sight of non-technological issues such as policy making, social issues, sustainable assessments, and economic viability. In the last 20 years, our lab and other labs have found solutions to recover carbon during wastewater treatment as part of a circular economy. Examples are anaerobic digestion and chain elongation with microbiomes.
However, this is not enough; we must now develop carbon-negative technologies to produce, for example, fuels, green chemicals, plastics, and even human food. To stop global warming beyond 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, we need to remove CO2 from smokestacks or even the atmosphere, and then carbon needs to be stored. One technology platform takes plant material and burns it under oxygen-limiting conditions so that carbon material, which plants had removed as CO2 from the atmosphere, is converted into pyrogenic biochar and CO. The biochar can be stored to improve soils, and the CO is used via biological conversions to make, for example, plastics or human food. This combination is one example of how the production of plastics or human food could become carbon negative. Other carbon-capture technologies use chemicals to temporarily bind and remove CO2, which we would like to utilize for product development.