One of the greatest challenges facing society is the future sustainable production of chemicals and fuels from non-petrochemical resources while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The recalcitrance of lignocellulose to deconstruction for feedstock purposes is making the economic development of biologically-based processes extremely challenging. This has led to the concept of using low-cost, abundant one-carbon (C1) feedstocks. Here the focus has been on using C1 gases, such as CO/CO2 and CH4, sourced as a waste from industrial processes, anaerobic digestion or deliberately formed as synthesis gas (syngas) through the gasification of any waste containing biomass (agricultural/ forestry residues and municipal solid waste) or by the reformation of shale gas. Such an approach is not without its issues. The mass transfer of gases into the liquid phase in reactors places constraints on reactor design and performance, while in the case of aerobic chassis the additional presence of H2, and O2 is potentially explosive. In contrast, as a liquid, methanol does not suffer from mass transfer issues in fermenters and is more easily stored and transported. It can be made from many sustainable feedstocks, including biomass, MSW, biogas, waste CO2, and even renewable electricity.
The case for using methanol as a feedstock to make chemicals and fuels is, therefore, compelling. In this project, BIOMETCHEM, we will exploit the progress made in developing effective genetic systems for Eubacterium limosum to derive engineered strains able to produce the value-added products γ-aminobutyric acid, GABA, (useful in the pharmaceutical and food additive industries) and 1,4-butanediol, BDO (a platform chemical), from biomass derived methanol.
Process strain will be derived through a combination of interdisciplinary methodologies, including:
Responsible Research Innovation (RRI) practices will be embedded within the programme of work through the participation of dedicated Social Scientists from the Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) at Nottingham. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA) will be undertaken by Nottingham in partnership with Johnson Matthey.
BIOMETCHEM will lead to the development of new sustainable production and conversion processes based on methanol feedstocks derived from gasified (syngas) biomass residues and wastes or from industrial by-products (FT waste streams). This will lead to new value-added products, GABA and BDO, useful in the pharmaceutical/food additive industries and the chemical industry, respectively.
Ultimately, the developments made will lead to new sustainable industrial processes. Moreover, by combining resources and expertise, BIOMETCHEM connects research partners in three different countries (France, Germany and UK) with different but complementary scientific and technological expertise, thereby maximising resources and sharing the risks, costs and skills. The participants represent some of Europe’s leading experts in anaerobic metabolism, and in particular C1 feedstocks. The amalgamation of their expertise and resources provides the critical mass needed to compete with the rest of the world, in particular the US and China, where there is considerable activity in the C1 field.