The Biosystems and Bioprocess engineering group exploits microbial processes driven by bacteria, archaea, microeukaryotes and microalgae, which can play a major role in the upcoming bio-based economy. The technological offer encompasses the integrated development of biocatalysts (enzymes, microbes, microbial consortia) and specific bioprocesses, including new tools for process monitoring and control, prototype reactors, pilot plants, new products and services to the up-coming green sectors.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the most advanced technology to convert wet biomass into energy and high-value fertilisers. However, this biological process is highly complex, poorly understood at the microbial level, and thus difficult to optimize when the feedstock varies in nature and quality. Researchers develop new tools to provide early warning of AD process imbalance and to improve the process control and efficiency.
The research group also characterizes the microbiomes of the anaerobic digestion process using metagenomics and metatranscriptomics to monitor the dynamics of microbiota for further understanding and improvement of process performance.
In comparison with solar and wind energy which are erratic in production, biomass and energy vectors can be stored to produce energy on-demand. There is thus a strong complementarity to be established between these different sources to modulate the production-consumption of renewable energies. At LIST, researchers develop innovative bioreactors to produce biogas on-demand, and to convert the renewably produced H2 and the CO2 fractionated from the biogas, into CH4 to be injected into the natural gas grid.
Among the feedstocks available to build a bio-based economy, lignocellulose is the most abundant biopolymer on Earth. However, lignocellulose is a highly recalcitrant complex where sugars are protected from degradation by environmental or biological factors. For this reason, alleviating lignin bounds is a major challenge for further extraction of these plant cell wall components and their further use to make advanced biofuels, biomaterials and bio-based products. Interestingly, some insects, including termites, which mainly thrive on dead material of vegetal origin, have developed complex and highly efficient microbe-based strategies to degrade lignocellulose. The research group thus develops an integrated "omic" approach to unravel the enzymatic and fungus-based strategies used by termites and other natural microbial consortia to deconstruct lignocellulose.
Organic wastes are mainly not adequately valorised and often landfilled. Their actual management leads to greenhouse gas emissions and losses of finite resources such as phosphorous and potential source of energy. At LIST, researchers assess the energy potential of waste and residues from the agricultural and food sectors, and develop adapted bio-based conversion processes for optimized energy production. In addition, they are technologically developing fractionation schemes in partnership with the emerging biorefining sector to recover clean water and essential nutrients for the vegetal production (bio-fertilisers), as well as building blocks for the green chemistry sector.
Industrial biotechnology is a key enabling technology to reinforce the bioeconomy, at it uses biocatalysts such as enzymes and microorganisms for the conversion of renewable bioresources into high added-value products in processes operating under mild conditions. To this end, recent developments in life sciences, particularly in genomics and synthetic biology, have enabled the engineering of improved microbial cell factories. Nonetheless, current approaches are often time-consuming and expensive. To tackle this challenge, biocatalyst design and bioprocess development need to be further integrated.
At LIST, researchers aim to efficiently develop microbes for the production of industrial enzymes –e.g. those isolated from the termite gut microbiome- and chemicals from renewable sources using synthetic biology tools, and taking into account process constraints at an early strain design stage, thereby facilitating scale-up and accelerating subsequent industrial implementation.
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