The transformation into a circular economy requires recycling of carbon monoxide (CO)-containing process gases from, e.g., steel mills. In the past four years, the BMBF-funded project BioCOnversion addressed this goal by the design and development of an integrated biotechnological process. Based on the BIG-Cluster initiative, an international consortium merged the present expertise from academia and industry to develop and streamline the underlying process concept.
This concept involves fermentation (RWTH Aachen) of a tailored production strain (Fraunhofer IME, WUR) to produce short and medium-length alcohols from syngas (thyssenkrupp SE, BFI). Followed by the design of a downstream process (Fraunhofer UMSICHT, TU Eindhoven), the alcohols were upgraded by whole-cell biotransformation (RUB, TU Graz) into a plastic precursor of industrial relevance (Covestro). The whole process concept was evaluated for its environmental and economic impact (nova). During the years of the project, the first strain optimisations were carried out, the basis for a fermentation process was established and possible DSP options were evaluated. Through all these developments, a first assessment of the technological readiness of the core process could be made, showing the first steps towards an industrial process.
Being accompanied by an expert group providing the perspective of industrial applications (all industry project partners, incl. BBEPP, VITO) the consortium succeeded under the coordination of CLIB to i) develop different process variants for each individual process step, and ii) select and optimise the process route providing the highest potential. In the end, the developed process showed, under certain constraints, a competitive techno-economic evaluation. Therefore, parts of the consortium are currently planning a follow-up activity to continue the development of the core process towards industrial application.