Using enzymes to convert CO2 from the air has the potential to become a new sustainable method of producing chemicals in the future.
This is the view of researchers at DTU who have identified enzymes that are extremely effective at converting CO2 into formic acid, which can then be further converted into, e.g., methanol by using other enzymes.
“Particularly two of the enzymes we have categorized in the formate dehydrogenase group show great potential of being able to capture CO2. In experimental studies, CO2 combined with electrons have proven to effectively convert CO2 into liquid chemicals,” says Christian Førgaard Nielsen, PhD student at DTU Bioengineering.
Using enzymes to convert CO2 requires power, and Christian Førgaard Nielsen believes that a production unit with enzymes in combination with electricity from wind turbines is a potential candidate for a new source of sustainable chemicals.
“Bioelectrochemistry is, in my opinion, the best bet for sustainable production, because we avoid retrieving fossils from underground deposits and burning them.
Instead, we can exploit the fact that it’s technically possible to electrify the enzymes and thus activate their ability to absorb CO2 from the air,” says Christian Førgaard Nielsen.
Developing production unit
Researchers have been working for decades to develop a technology that can effectively convert carbon from CO2 into fuel.
A number of materials have been created in laboratories which can convert CO2 into, e.g., methanol when combined with electrons from an electrical source.
However, it has still not been possible to develop a technology that is sufficiently effective, but the next step is to improve the existing technology, including the enzymes that catalyze the conversion of formic acid into methanol.
According to Christian Førgaard Nielsen, the identification of the CO2-transforming enzymes is also still at a basic scientific level.
The next step will be to create and scale up an efficient production of the selected enzymes and to construct a production unit that can be tested in combination with wind turbines, for example, to create formic acid.
Anne S. Meyer, Professor at DTU Bioengineering, believes that discovering the CO2-transforming enzymes and producing them in a production organism is a genuine breakthrough.
“It opens up exciting possibilities. We don’t have a finished production technology yet, but we do have some important components that can be included in experiments where the enzymes in production units are connected to solar panels or wind farms. And it’s even a technology where Denmark has the potential to become a market leader, considering its strong enzyme industry,” says Anne S. Meyer.
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