Picture: ©Lanzatech

Biotechnology-driven carbon revolution

Fossil carbon is in nearly everything we use in our daily lives ranging from power and fuels to fibers, coatings, and materials used in our clothes, packaging, toys, and household goods. Virgin fossil carbon use in these products is not sustainable given the current understanding of the impact of extracted, emitted, and waste carbon on our environment, climate, and vulnerable populations.

To achieve our climate goals and mitigate climate disasters, a large-scale, robust, rapid, and sustained effort must be made to re-tool our entire carbon economy. To align with a “Net Zero Path,” economies today are investing in innovative carbon transformation technologies that enable a circular carbon economy where carbon is reused rather than wasted.

Aimed to foster that clean energy future, biotechnology is poised to play a major part in a circular carbon economy providing a path to displace products made from petroleum with alternatives from recycled carbon. Biological systems are uniquely suited for this challenge. Life on Earth evolved on transforming CO2 into more complex building blocks and biology unlike traditional technologies is inherently flexible and capable of processing chaotic input streams. This allows accessing low-cost, regional feedstocks including industrial off-gases, agricultural residues, and municipal waste; CO2 with the addition of green H2 can make an unlimited supply of sustainable products. Imagine polyester for a dress made from recycled carbon from a steel mill. This is not science fiction, it’s happening commercially today. Global consumer brands are already using recycled carbon chemicals in their supply chain enabled by biotechnology.

As we enter a critical period for energy use and for our climate, we should all take steps to consider how to enable a stronger circular carbon economy. As business leaders, we can use carbon transformation to rethink how we procure, use, and dispose of carbon. And as consumers, we can choose where our carbon comes from. In the quest for innovative technologies, we must ensure they benefit both rural communities and traditional manufacturing centers to support a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient economy.

Carbon transformation technologies offer solutions that can be applied across economic sectors, such as agriculture, industry, and waste management, as an essential strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; meet commitments to reduce fossil imports and support the wider economy. Carbon transformation can address sustainability needs domestically by reducing air pollution, recycling waste, providing clean jobs, generating cleaner burning fuels, and producing low-carbon materials stamped. But we need more industries to adopt the approach. To heal and repair the world takes time. And with innovation and strong partnerships and the support of government leaders, we are ready to make the transition and celebrate a post-pollution future.  

Dr Michael Köpke, is pioneer in Synthetic Biology of carbon-fixing microbes. Michael started his career at the University of Ulm and has over 15 years’ or experience in biotech. Since 2009, he is working for LanzaTech, currently as VP of Synthetic Biology. Michael is also an adjunct faculty at Northwestern University and part of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium council. He is an inventor of over 200 patents, has published over 50 scientific articles and is an awardee of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award.

This editorial was originally published in European Biotechnology Magazine Autumn Edition 2022.