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The protozoan that uses carbon dioxide from the fuel gas channel in Niederaussem is around 700 micrometers small.
© RWE
Micro-organisms make use of carbon dioxide
06.01.2012

Small climate savers discovered

Special micro-organisms can make direct use of the carbon dioxide (CO2) contained in flue gases from lignite-fired power plants as “food”, and grow even at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius. This is the interim result of the research cooperation between an electricity producer and a biotechnology company at the Niederaussem power plant near Cologne.

Two years ago, RWE Power and BRAIN AG started a cooperation in order to convert carbon dioxide with micro-organisms – into biomass or directly into materials. Micro-organisms are bred and used to research new ways of using CO2. In addition to biomass, this could also result in the creation of products suitable for industrial use such as synthetics and chemical intermediate products.  Here, application possibilities are examined – for example as building and insulating materials as well as for the production of fine and special chemicals or possibly even mass chemicals.

The BRAIN company is part of the white biotechnology that has received funding of 2.4 billion euros from the German government since 2010 as “National Research Strategy Bio-Economy 2030”. The 99 researchers from BRAIN have looked for micro-organisms – both in their own archives as well as in samples taken directly in the flue gas channel of the power plant in Niederaussem – that can grow under the conditions in the flue gas using the CO2. Overall, more than 3,000 micro-organisms have been checked in this context. One third met the requirements profile. As a next step, the most productive users of the greenhouse gas have been identified and characterised. 29 candidates with particularly good growth properties have since been selected by the researchers – of these, ten were not previously known or described. This is a result of the genetic characterisation of the micro-organisms.

More than ten years of research still ahead

“Our pioneering in the search for biotechnology solutions in CO2 conversion is bearing initial fruit,” says Dr. Johannes Heithoff, Head of Research and Development at RWE Power. “We are so convinced by the results achieved by the research team of BRAIN together with our power plant experts that we wish to further expand the programme.” To date, more than two million euros have been invested in the research project. Dr. Jürgen Eck, BRAIN board member responsible for research, adds: “Our aim is to provide a lasting contribution to CO2 use in an industrially scalable system. In this respect, we are using the diverse opportunities offered by microbiological metabolism forms and synthetic biology in order to achieve the most efficient CO2 conversion possible through highly efficient designer micro-organisms.” Between 10 and 15 per cent of the CO2 could be tied up by micro-organisms in future, estimates RWE in an interview with the Rheinische Post. Nevertheless, research is still at an early stage and commercial use is not expected until 2025.

RWE Power intends to involve further carbon-rich waste flows, such as those created in waste water, in the production of food or in refineries, in the project. The company wishes to form an innovation alliance in this respect, in which a total of 21 industrial companies, small, medium-sized companies as well as academic research facilities come together in order to advance projects concerning the use of these waste currents through intensive exchange of information. At the Innovation Centre Coal at the Niederaussem power plant site, RWE is operating Germany’s first CO2 scrub and a prototype facility for pre-drying of lignite (WTA). A REAplus high-performance scrubber is also carrying out research into how dust and sulphur dioxide can be better separated from the flue gas. All projects, for which the company is investing more than 100 million euros, are working jointly with the most modern and efficient lignite-fired power plant in the world today (BoA 1).The article "From exhaust gas to raw material” describes further current projects on the use of CO2 (CCU).

(ph)

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