We have too much carbon dioxide: This simple truth has puzzled countless researchers around the world. It is not just about reducing emissions, the second adjusting screw, consumption, is also being worked hard. Austrian researchers have now discovered a bacterium that helps to make protein-rich biomass from CO2. The end product can be used as animal feed and as raw material for the production of bioplastics. Maybe people will be able to feed on it in the near future.
Cupriavidus necator uses CO2 as a carbon source
The Graz start-up Econutri emerged from a collaboration between TU Graz and the Austrian Center for Industrial Biotechnology (acib). On Wednesday, it received the Styria 2022 innovation journey in the “Sustainability: R&D Institutions” category. These are so-called carbon utilization technologies, ie processes that separate and use carbon dioxide. Econutri bases his research on chemolithotrophic organisms, more specifically on the bacterium Cupriavidus necator, which uses CO2 as a carbon source. However, this requires a lot of energy from hydrogen.
Protein can replace soy and fish meal
The scientists assume that hydrogen, which is still expensive at the moment, will become cheaper in the future because it will be available in larger quantities. As soon as enough green surplus electricity is available, large-scale hydrogen production can start and the bacterial colonies are ready. All in all, apart from the hydrogen consumption, the process requires little energy. The organisms hardly need any nutrients, are mainly satisfied with their CO2 and reproduce themselves. In their biomass they store up to 80 percent high-quality proteins in an environmentally friendly way, which can soon replace soy and fishmeal for livestock. This in turn saves agricultural and grazing land – and protects nature.
The system is already working on a lab scale and the next step is to create a 300 liter system for further research. For example, the scientists want to connect large industrial installations to cement factories in order to use the CO2 released there directly. Instead of ending up in our atmosphere, it becomes food, bioplastic or even ends up on our plates.