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GasFermTEC: Gas Fermentation Technologies ERA Chair

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GasFermTEC (GasFermTEC: Gas Fermentation Technologies ERA Chair)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-11-30

The GasFermTEC project aims to recruit an experienced researcher and research manager, to act as an ERA Chair, and lead a team of researchers at the Estonian Centre for Biosustainability (ECB) to support and coordinate the setup of (i) a research direction specializing in gas fermentation technologies, ii) structural changes at ECB to implement a new model of partnership between academia and industry, iii) a training centre on biosustainability. The ERA Chair will be an expert in the field of gas fermentation – intimately linked to the other research groups (e.g. synthetic biology, chemical engineering, bioprocessing) and other initiatives at the ECB (the CelESTial Teaming project and the SynBioTEC). It will lead to solutions to capture carbon through bio-based production of fuels and high-value chemicals from globally available feedstocks, including waste gases and syngas produced via gasification of municipal waste and biomass; an initiative that will positively contribute to the Environmental Challenges and to the Smart Specialisation Strategy of Estonia. Structural measures regarding the research strategy of the ECB and its positioning within an industry context will be established, including planning for i) an innovative cooperation structure, the ECB-Industry-Association and ii) an ECB Pilot Plant. The Association will coordinate activities of the Pilot Plant project for the industrial optimization of bioprocessing technologies. The pilot plant, combined with a training and competence centre, will provide the local bioprocessing industry with research-based innovative technology solutions, and serve as a broad public platform for a debate on biosustainability.With the GasFermTEC project, the ECB expects to increase its research capacity to become more visible and competitive, and more capable of attracting external funding through participation in international research initiatives – leading to its vision of becoming a leading European centre of excellence.
The most significant achievement of the ERA Chair in Gas Fermentation Technologies (GasFermTEC) so far is the start-up of a state-of-the-art gas fermentation facility at the University of Tartu. GasFermTEC has also been able to formulate a strong team to kick-start gas fermentation research by recruiting five people in addition to the ERA Chair Holder Dr. Kaspar Valgepea. The first step towards forming the Estonian Centre for Biosustainability (ECB)-Industry Association was made by organising a seminar in collaboration with the Estonian Academy of Sciences with international speakers introducing gas fermentation technologies to the wider audience that included prospective partners from the industry. GasFermTEC is already working together with leading industry towards applying for funding to establish the ECB gas fermentation pilot plant in Estonia. The ERA Chair team has also designed a new model for PhD studies in close cooperation with bio-based industry partners.
A significant step beyond the state-of-the-art was made by establishing a cutting-edge gas fermentation facility at the ERA Chair in Gas Fermentation Technologies (GasFermTEC) at the University of Tartu. The facility assures stringent safety controls and enables to carry out gas fermentation experiments in strictly-controlled environmental conditions and provide detailed characterisation of the biocatalyst’s physiology. GasFermTEC expects to promote structural changes at the University of Tartu to foster excellent research in the area of gas fermentation technologies by establishing an ERA Chair position at the Estonian Centre for Biosustainability (ECB), helping the Centre to achieve its scientific vision and contribute significantly to European Research Area. In addition, GasFermTEC will design and coordinate the planning and formation of an innovative model of partnership between academia and industry (ECB-Industrial Association) linked together by a regional competence centre and collectively owned pilot plant. The established research and intersectoral collaboration environment would contribute to the local bio-economy, bioprocessing industry and regional smart specialization and innovation goals. The center will provide dedicated training sessions and events to contribute to the public/industrial debate on biosustainability.