Chemical by-products from the production of fossil fuels have a wide variety of uses. These molecular compounds are highly valued and used to make everything from shampoo bottles, bleach containers and plastic wrap, while others are used in the fragrance and flavour industries. However, these specialty chemicals can be difficult and expensive to produce and contribute to high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
A new project funded by Genome BC seeks to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and funnel them into an algae farm to manufacture a range of specialty chemicals through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert energy from the sun into chemical energy.
This collaborative research brings the laboratory of Vikramaditya G. Yadav, Associate Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC) together with Phytonix Corporation to establish a unique BC based manufacturing facility and biosynthetic platform to produce a range of specialty chemicals. Prof. Yadav’s laboratory is a global leader in enzyme engineering and synthetic biology, and Phytonix Corporation is an authority on industrial photosynthesis.
The efficient capture of CO2 emitted by industrial facilities such as natural gas production, cement plants, or wastewater treatment plants, to name just a few, is a central pillar of the province’s CleanBC plan to reduce climate pollution and build a low-carbon economy. BC aspires to be one of the leading de-carbonized economies of the world, and the provincial government has mandated reducing BC’s GHG emissions by as much as 80% below 2007 levels by 2050.
“Not only will capturing emissions go a long way towards meeting these aggressive targets, they also represent an untapped resource that can be monetized using effective carbon conversion platforms,” said Prof. Yadav. “Biological carbon capture and conversion is a compelling alternative since it offers the possibility of converting CO2 to high value chemicals that can be profitable at scale.”
“If successful, the project will be a constructive step towards sustainable decarbonization through biological carbon capture and conversion,” said Patrick Neill, Director of Engineering, Phytonix. “It will also aid Phytonix in diversifying its product portfolio opening entirely new, highly profitable markets for the company.”
Phytonix and partners have engineered a process to manufacture solvents such as butanol and isobutanol from CO2 and are currently scaling the technology towards commercialization. ? Through this initiative, Phytonix aspires to diversify its products to include high-value speciality chemicals, particularly fragrances and flavours.
“This project leverages the strengths of both partners and presents a viable opportunity for genomics innovation in BC,” said Lisette Mascarenhas, Genome BC’s Sector Director, Agrifood and Natural Resources.? “Successfully advancing this platform will lead to the establishment of a unique process that could achieve the province’s twin goals of decarbonization and value creation from natural resources.”
This project is a direct investment through Genome BC’s GeneSolve program, designed to bring industry and academia together to find solutions for sector challenges.
Phytonix Corporation is an industrial biotechnology company producing sustainable chemicals directly from carbon dioxide. Their patented process employs cyanobacteria, which are the same ancient, photosynthetic organisms responsible for creating a breathable atmosphere on Earth and that contributed greatly to the genesis of our miraculous blue planet. Phytonix’s objective is to be the global leader in bio-safe, direct solar chemical production utilizing carbon dioxide as the sole feedstock for the cyanobacteria along with energy from the Sun. Phytonix and its partners utilize a collaborative business model via a capital-light strategy, based upon circular economy principles, to produce a variety of cost-leadership renewable chemicals and fuels from carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water via patented photobiological and genomics technology.
Genome British Columbia leads genomics innovation on Canada’s West Coast and facilitates the integration of genomics into society. A recognized catalyst for government and industry, Genome BC invests in research, entrepreneurship and commercialization in life sciences to address challenges in key sectors such as health, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, agrifood, energy, mining and environment. Genome BC partners with many national and international public and private funding organizations to drive BC’s bioeconomy.
Source: Genome BC, press release, 2019-08-23.