CMAP: Conversion of Greenhouse Gases into High Value Materials

Pictured: (Back; L to R) - Justin A. North, Kyuha Lee, Cathleen Fry, Vishnu Baba Sundaresan, Sriram Satagopan; Front (L to R) – Bhavik Bakshi, Jon R. Parquette

Not pictured: Bob Tabita

Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are the two most abundant greenhouse gases, trapping thermal radiation close to the earth’s atmosphere and contributing to global warming and climate change. These two gases contributed to 94% of all the greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. CO2 emissions are expected to increase by more than 40% by 2035, unless major worldwide policies are soon implemented. While CH4 emissions have remained fairly stable over the past 20 years, they are expected to rise significantly in the next decades, largely as a consequence of the increased use of natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, which results in major releases of CH4 to the atmosphere. From an industrial perspective, CO2 and CH4 provide very abundant sources of carbon for the synthesis of a large range of chemicals. While plants and microbes are efficient at converting CO2 into sugars and other compounds, the sophisticated chains of enzymatic reactions that usually accomplish these processes are difficult to replicate in an industrial context. Existing industrial methods to convert CH4 into methanol are also very energy consuming.

Biology-inspired catalysts derived from bacteria and plants, such as ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase (RubisCO) and methane monooxygenase (MMO), extract CO2 or methane, respectively, and convert them to energy-rich compounds like glucose, by the sequential action of multiple enzymes. However, the use of free or cell-based enzymes as biocatalysts for large-scale industrial processes pose significant drawbacks due to their incompatibility with reaction conditions that often depart from their physiological states. The challenge is to construct catalytic systems that mimic the cellular environment but are scalable and sufficiently robust to withstand harsher conditions and be separated from the product.

This CAPS project aims to develop methods (1) to encapsulate CO2 reducing enzymes within synthetic nanostructures to mimic natural carboxysomes found in nature, (2) to create a catalytic RNA molecule for methane oxidation, (3) to develop supramolecular catalysts for the conversion of CH4 into commodity chemicals and (4) to develop strategies to deploy these catalysts in real-world environments.

Team Members

Strategic Areas

  • Photosynthesis and Carbon Fixation