SERC collaborative EPSRC funding success for CO2 conversion into Liquid Fuels

Iano Premier

The Sustainable Environment Research Centre (SERC) at the University of South Wales (USW), as part of a successful collaborative HE bid, has been funded by EPSRC for the next 4 years to develop a breakthrough technology with integrated low cost bio-electrochemical processes to convert CO2 into liquid fuels for transportations, energy storage, heating and other applications.

The project, valued at £1.18M, is led by Newcastle University with Universities of Sheffield, Surrey, Oxford and South Wales as partners. Several expert partners from Pennsylvania State University, IIT Delhi, Ghent University and Dong Hua University are involved; as well as industrial interests including Tata Steel, Magneto Special Anodes BV, Northumbrian Water, WHPartnership Ltd, NewCell Technologies Ltd, Haydale Ltd amongst others.

Carbon dioxide will be converted to formate with the electric energy from biomass and various wastes and other renewable sources by Bioelectrochemical systems (BES). The formate is then biotransformed by SimCells, specialized synthetic microorganisms for converting formate to fuel. 

The work at USW is concerned with the systems engineering, integration, control and optimization of the process and will be conducted by Post-Doctoral Researcher, Dr Hitesh Boghani and is led in USW by Prof Giuliano Premier with co-investigators Prof Alan Guwy and Prof Richard Dinsdale.

The current fuel production and related industries are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. BP's Statistical Review of World Energy published in 2014 states that the world has in reserves 892 billion tonnes of coal, 186 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, and 1688 billion barrels of crude oil. Although these are huge reserves, at today's rate of extraction, coal would be exhausted in 113 years and natural gas by 2069 and crude oil by 2067. Furthermore, atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased from 270 ppm to 400 ppm since the industrial revolution, and is predicted to exceed 40GT/year by 2030.

As world population and energy needs increase, breakthrough technologies tackling both fuel supply and carbon emission challenges are needed. Industrial and municipal wastewaters require energy for their stabilisation, but they carry significant amounts of chemical energy in their polluting potential. Using CO2 as a chemical feedstock for fuel production, could simultaneously deliver sustainable fuels, reductions in greenhouse gases and wastewater treatment. This is particularly true if the processes can be co-located at appropriate industrial sites, saving transportation and enhancing efficiency. 

The multidisciplinary team of five universities will work together to develop this ground-breaking technology. We will adopt life cycle approaches to find the best approach to liquid biofuel production and will study ways to influence low carbon fuel policies. These innovative technology will positively impact the UK's CO2 emissions target for reducing and increasing renewable energy use by targeting two specific aspects on renewable low carbon fuel generation: 

1) Use of biomass and wastewater as a source of energy and reducing power to synthesise chemicals from CO2. 

2) Interfacing electrochemical and biological processes to achieve chemical energy-to-fuels transformation.

For more information, contact Prof Iano Premier