07.06.2024 Carbon dioxide as a raw material for chemical intermediates

Research consortium develops climate-neutral production with the help of bacteria isolated from bovine rumen - BMBF funds with 2.6 million euros

Portrait of Anke Becker
Photo: Rolf K. Wegst
Prof. Anke Becker heads the Marburg Centre for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO).

In order to mitigate the climate catastrophe, researchers are intensifying their efforts to replace industrial production processes that are based on the consumption of fossil raw materials such as crude oil through climate-neutral alternatives. This can be achieved, for example, through fermentations in which bacteria utilize plant sugars and carbon dioxide to produce higher-value chemical substances in bioreactors. In the FUMBIO project, researchers from the Centre for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO) at the University of Marburg, colleagues from the Universities of Saarbrücken and Kaiserslautern-Landau and the coordinating partner BASF want to establish such a sustainable production process.

FUMBIO stands for "FUMaric acid BIO-based" and refers to the biocatalytic process in which the bacterium Basfia succiniciproducens produces the chemical intermediate fumaric acid from renewable sugars as well as carbon dioxide from industrial waste gas streams. Fumaric acid is a platform chemical, of which tonnes are used in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. From the researchers' point of view, this is twice as sustainable and climate-friendly: CO2 is removed from the environment and no crude oil is required as a starting chemical. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the research consortium with a total of 2.6 million euros from 2024 to 2026 as part of the "Climate-neutral products through biotechnology" program. 

"This is pioneering research in which universities and industry are jointly developing CO2-neutral production processes. FUMBIO is a perfect example of climate-relevant research in our 'Microbes for Climate' (M4C) initiative," says Prof. Dr. Thomas Nauss, President of the Philipps University of Marburg. 

The FUMBIO project will develop the entire value chain from sustainable starting materials via the intermediate product fumaric acid up to the biocatalytic conversion into bio-based end products. The aim is to produce products whose carbon footprint is significantly lower than that of a conventional petrochemical production - and may even become negative through the utilization of CO2 from industrial off-gases. The environmental sustainability of the process steps will be examined and evaluated in accompanying life cycle analyses.

The bacterium Basfia succiniciproducens, which was originally isolated from the rumen of cows, is already being used in other industrial fermentation processes. Now the researchers in Prof. Dr. Anke Becker's SYNMIKRO working group at the University of Marburg want to investigate how the bacterium's metabolism can be modified so that it produces as much fumaric acid as possible. “We are using methods of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology to reprogram the bacterium into a fumaric acid producer," explains Dr. Tamara Hoffmann from the research group.

Subsequently, colleagues from Saarbrücken will analyze the bacterial strains and their metabolism. The Ludwigshafen-based industrial company BASF is engaged in the biotechnological fermentation process and, together with the researchers from Kaiserslautern, will develop the further processing of fumaric acid into climate-friendly products. The BMBF is hoping that the collaboration between industry and university research will lead to rapid and systematic research, further innovations and competitive technologies.

Further information: Press release from BASF


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