Skip to main content

Fuels from electricity: de novo metabolic conversion of electrochemically produced formate into hydrocarbons

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - eForFuel (Fuels from electricity: de novo metabolic conversion of electrochemically produced formate into hydrocarbons)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-08-31

"Greenhouse gases (especially CO2) emitted from the burning of fossil fuels are significant drivers of climate change and a global threat to society and the environment. Hence, it is very important to replace fossil fuels with alternative, sustainable sources. Early generation biofuels compete with land resources, limit agricultural production of food, and, therefore, cannot completely replace fossil fuels without severely undermining food security and decreasing biodiversity. In order to overcome this problem, eForFuel provides a novel solution to utilize resources that are essentially unlimited and that are independent of land use: CO2, electricity and water.
""What makes eForFuel unique is the sustainable production chain that converts CO2 emissions and renewable electricity into easy to handle formic acid, which is then fed to engineered microbes for the production of renewable hydrocarbon fuels"", says project coordinator Arren Bar-Even from the German Max Planck Institute.
eForFuel aims to establish and demonstrate a unique integrated electro-bioreactor, which automatically integrates different steps: CO2 (carbon dioxide) electro-reduction, formate production and formate bioconversion to hydrocarbons that can serve as ""drop-in"" fuels, that is fuels that can be used in existing engines. The goal is to first reduce CO2 by applying electricity, then add H+ protons from electrolyzed water to create formate, a simple molecule similar to formic acid. The formate is then supplied to genetically engineered bacteria that have been designed to feed o formate and to produce biofuels in so-called fermenters. This integrated system will serve as a stepping stone towards transforming the way we produce fuels and carbon-based chemicals."
For biorefineries to displace fossil fuels, a sustainable feedstock for microbial growth must be identified. As agricultural production of sugars has a limited capacity, it cannot completely replace fossil fuels without severely undermining food security and decreasing biodiversity. In order to fully displace fossil fuels we need to utilize resources that are essentially unlimited and that are independent of agricultural or forestry land use.
eForFuel develops an industrial biotechnology solution that uses electricity and microorganisms to convert CO2 into hydrocarbon fuels, thus providing a sustainable replacement of fossil carbons. We use the advantages of different disciplines to establish an efficient process: carbon dioxide activation via reduction to formic acid is performed via electrochemical means while production of hydrocarbons is carried out in formatotrophic microbes.
eForFuel addresses multiple challenges previously limiting the success of novel fuel technologies. We decouple production from agricultural resources, instead relying on widely available resources, such as water, renewable electricity, and concentrated waste CO2 originating for example from the gas outflow of the steel industry. As a mediator between the electrochemical apparatus and microbial growth we use formic acid, which, unlike hydrogen and carbon monoxide, is fully soluble, easily stored and safe to handle. Our products, gaseous propane and isobutene, can be easily separated from the microbial culture, reducing production cost and increasing energy efficiency. Furthermore, the products can be easily integrated into existing fuel facilities: propane as component of LPG, and isobutene for production of the superb fuel substitute isooctane.
eForFuel is a truly interdisciplinary consortium, bringing together experts from a wide spectrum of fields, including electrochemistry, material science, enzymology, biochemistry, microbiology, chemical engineering, industrial biotechnology, environmental science, and sociology. By focusing on integrated sustainability, eForFuel sets the stage for a future environmentally, economically, and societally sustainable value chain to produce renewable chemicals and fuels.
At M18, the main results achieved are:
• optimized structure and composition for both cathode and anode;
• optimized electrolysis with regard to Energetic and Faraday Efficiencies, Current Densities and Electrode Lifetime
• optimise growth of E. Coli on formate via one of the formate assimilation pathways;
• growth of a microbial population of E. Coli using CO2 as sole carbon source and electricity as sole reducing power;
• efficient production of propane from glucose and in a formatotrophic E. coli strain
• proof of concept of production of isobutene in a formatotrophic E. coli strain
• conceptual and basic design of the electrobioreactor (EBR), with detailed architecture of hardware control and software. Construction of a prototype of the bioreactor module is currently under progress for further validation of the fluidic operations and sterility check;
• definition of system and system boundaries for the integrated LCA assessment.
The technical steps (CO2 electro-reduction, formate production and formate bioconversion to hydrocarbons) have been shown to work by themselves in some measure in the laboratory, but they have not been shown to work all together, and therefore not on an industrial scale. eForFuels goes beyond the state of the art by improving capability, maturity and performance in order to bring the process closer to the market. As long as renewable sources cannot be used for everything we need in our lives, the technology could help to significantly reduce the impact fossil fuels have on the planet.
We have initiated a devising methodology for Life Cycle Assessment, Techno-economical assessmentm and Socio-economical and policy assessment, with follow-up of on-going standardisation work in the field of LCA.
A public communication strategy has been developed together with planned and organized citizen engagement events for public perception survey in Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, Spain and Italy.
Infographic eForFuel