CE.20.009 – From CO2 to product with solar energy: The bio-industrial approach

Route: Circular economy

Cluster question: 014 How can mimicking plant photosynthesis contribute to a new green revolution?

During the last decade many methods have been developed to harvest the energy derived from solar radiation. The most advanced use photovoltaic processes to convert the solar free energy into electricity. However, the circadian and seasonal fluctuations in the rate of supply create specific storage problems. Conversion of the energy into stable commodity products would be desirable for long-term storage. Such can be carried out through (bio)chemical catalysis and in single- or multi-step processes, with varying degrees of risks. We have reviewed the most promising ways of converting solar energy into chemical commodities. We concluded that a rational choice for large-scale application could not yet be made, particularly because of uncertainties related to up-scaling. The estimate was that transient storage of solar energy in electricity followed by selected product formation by photosynthetic microorganisms in high-density photobioreactors may be the most promising approach. An alternative that remained relatively under-illuminated in this comparison was the use of solar panels that convert the solar energy into gaseous hydrogen with maximum power point tracking at the electrolysis level – so-called artificial leaves. Significant advances have been made meanwhile in the efficiency of this method. Furthermore, these devices have also been used to drive bioreactors for the conversion of the solar energy together with CO2 into stable chemical commodities. The latter process can make use of hydrogen-utilizing bacteria, and could also be shown to operate with considerable efficiency. In this program, we aim at a stringent comparison of these approaches with respect to variation and intermittency of incoming light, energetic efficiency, biochemical specificity, and scale-up robustness. We will combine several interdisciplinary fields – physics, electrochemistry, microbial biotechnology, synthetic biology and bioprocess design – to develop optimal biocatalysts for solar/CO2 conversion to chemicals.


acetogenic bacteria, biotechnology, commodity chemicals, cyanobacteria, hydrogen panels, sustainable processes

Other organisations

Leiden University (LEI), Photanol B.V., Wageningen Universities and Research (WUR)


Organisation University of Amsterdam (uva)
Name Dr. Filipe Branco dos Santos
E-mail f.brancodossantos@uva.nl
Website https://sils.uva.nl/content/research-groups/bacterial-cell-biology-and-physiology-groups/bacterial-cell-biology-and-physiology-groups.html