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Posted: Feb 28, 2013
Transforming carbon dioxide into a valuable resource
(Nanowerk News) The German government supports the transformation of the economy from a petroleum- to a bio-based economy with its “Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Initiative.” Selected industrial companies and educational and research institutions take the lead in this ambitious program. The Aachen Biology and Biotechnology department contributes to two of the three alliances selected for funding by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, with research projects led by RWTH Professors Ulrich Schwaneberg, Institute of Biotechnology, Lars Blank, Institute of Applied Microbiology, and Alexander Böker, Interactive Materials Research (DWI) and Chair of Macromolecular Materials and Surfaces. Over the next few years, these projects will receive 2.5 million Euros in funding.
From Industrial Coatings to Cosmetics Products
The “Zero Carbon Footprint“ alliance strives to treat carbon-rich waste products such as sewage sludge, sewage water, and flue gas with bio-technological methods in such a way that they can be used by industry as valuable resources.
One of the 21 project partners is the RWTH Power AG, a utilities provider which now has the opportunity to enter into a research collaboration with partners such as the Zwingenberger Brain AG and the RWTH Institute of Applied Microbiology to investigate the biotechnological processing and refinement of the climate damaging carbon dioxide.
The Aachen researchers provide the know-how for the analysis of microbial metabolism performance. According to RWTH professor Lars Blank, “certain microorganisms function as consumers of carbon dioxide. Through ‘metabolic engineering,’ these organisms can be modified in such a way that they transform the harmful carbon dioxide into valuable components for diverse materials.” Such components provide the basis, for example, for basic chemicals that are used by industry for the production of car and industrial coatings, glues, as well as body and hair care products.
“Teflon Coating” for Functional Garments
The second research collaboration is concerned with the „Functionalization of Polymers.“ In this project, researchers investigate ways to optimize the respective functions of synthetic fibers in sports and outdoor garments. “Using certain proteins that we attach to the textile fabric, pigments or capsules can attach themselves to the fibers. They expand after completion of the sewing process, making the seams permanently impermeable. Other pigments may be used to preserve the brightness of the textile colors when the garment is washed,” explains Professor Ulrich Schwaneberg. Currently, so Schwaneberg, for each kilogram of thread that is industrially produced, about ten kilograms of carbon dioxide are released. In particular, the coloring and the chemical functionalization of the threads consumes large amounts of energy and water. “For this reason,” so Schwaneberg, “it is of great economic and environmental-political significance to develop biotechnological processes that do not require high temperatures for the coloring and finishing of textiles.”
Aachen Biology and Biotechnology (ABBt)
In a bio-based economy, biology and biotechnology play a key role in the provision of solutions to today’s societal challenges in the health economy, the energy supply sector (bio-based fuels), and industrial sectors such as the chemical, food, detergent, leather, and paper industries. Over the last three years, with six new professorial appointments, the Aachen Biology and Biotechnology department (ABBt) has undergone a structural reorganization; its newly defined key research areas include the protection of plant biomass, microbial and molecular transformation, and bionics. Also, the ABBt participates in several research collaborations, including the Bioeconomy Science Center and the DFG Graduate Research Training Groups SeleCa and BioNoCo.