Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) is a rapidly emerging technology where microbes are used as specialized, low-cost biocatalysts to convert electrical energy into chemical energy and vice versa. A major advantage of the BES technology is the capability to use “green” electricity produced from renewable sources (e.g. sun, wind, wastewater, etc.) as an energy source to stimulate and enhance the microbial production of biochemicals and biofuels. Another important advantage is the capability to reuse and upgrade low-value and waste compounds into useful commodities with industrial relevance, higher economic value, and/or higher energetic value. Improving the efficiency in using sustainable materials and energy sources for the production of our society’s chemicals and fuels is essential to realize the shift from our oil-based to a bio-based economy, and this is why research on BES development is important for everyone.
At the Division of Industrial Biotechnology we are looking at both fundamental and applied aspects of BES, with the aim to expand their applications and to develop an efficient and competitive BES technology. Part of our research focuses on designing microbial electrosynthesis processes where microbes are fed with electricity, CO2 and other low-value compounds to produce useful chemicals and fuels (e.g. alcohols). Another part focuses on how electricity can be used as an additional redox power source to alter the microbial metabolic pathways involved in the production of fermentation products (e.g. amino acids). In these so-called electrofermentation processes electrical energy is used to regenerate electron carriers which are important for the microbial metabolism, and also to convert inhibitory compounds to less inhibitory or useful ones. In this way we can eventually save on valuable carbon substrates and also increase the production rates and yields.
BES research in the Division of Industrial Biotechnology has been funded by Göteborg Energi (methane production enhancement), ÅForsk (electrofermentations for 1,3-propanediol production), and is currently part of the BioBUF research consortium
which is funded by FORMAS (fermentation waste valorization).