Green chemical production using ecological control strategies. Illustration by Helena Junicke.

Microbial mixed cultures can produce sustainable biobutanol

Wednesday 07 Apr 21

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Krist V. Gernaey
Professor
DTU Chemical Engineering
+45 45 25 29 70

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Helena Junicke
Assistant Professor
DTU Chemical Engineering

Biobutanol produced with mixed cultures

The hypothesis is that biobutanol can be produced in a continuous process with microbial mixed cultures, exclusively from butyrate and hydrogen as substrates, and without the use of glucose. Hydrogen is also a biofuel, but the total amount of energy that can be extracted from biomass is higher in the production of biobutanol.
Biobutanol is currently produced from pure cultures of Clostridia with strict substrate requirements.
Chemical production and energy supply are still heavily dependent on fossil raw materials. However, bio-based production systems are now paving the way for a potential green alternative, as specific fermentation processes make it possible to extract chemicals from renewable resources and waste streams.

As it is now, industrial production based on microbial pure cultures requires pure and therefore expensive raw materials such as glucose (from sugar cane and corn), in what is called first generation bioethanol production.

Energy and resource recovery is a necessity

“There is reason to be worried about the widespread use of microbial pure cultures in state-of-the-art production platforms when it comes to sustainable use of land and competition for food production. And it limits the environmental and economic benefits that can otherwise be achieved, ”says Krist V. Gernaey, professor at DTU Chemical Engineering and leader of the GREENLOGIC project, in which the production of biobutanol in microbial mixed cultures is in focus.

With green transition, energy and resource recovery have become central themes in second-generation biotechnological production processes. This applies, for example, to second-generation bioethanol production from straw, where residual products from agriculture are extracted for energy production.

Biobutanol can eventually replace gasoline

Led by Assistant Professor Helena Junicke and Professor Krist V. Gernaey, a research group at DTU Chemical Engineering has now gone a step further and is investigating how microbial mixed cultures can be used to produce green chemicals and sustainable biobutanol from cheap renewable raw materials and waste streams.

“Biobutanol is a promising biofuel with ideal properties to replace large-scale petrol-based transport fuels. With twice as high energy density, biobutanol is better than bioethanol, which is used as an additive to fuel today”says Professor Krist V. Gernaey.

The aim of the project is to gain a deeper understanding of the basic principles that control green chemical production with biotechnology based on mixed cultures, so that in the long run we can transport ourselves much more sustainably.

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