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Carbon Capture and Utilization

VIVALDI – a potential biogenic CCU virtuoso?

VIVALDI – a potential biogenic CCU virtuoso?
Ayanne De Oliveira Maciel (left), Ulrika Rova, and Io Antonopoulou, all researchers in the Department of Biochemical Process Engineering at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) involved in the EU co-funded VIVALDI carbon capture and utilization (CCU) project at the SunPine biorefinery in Piteå, Sweden (photo courtesy LTU).

Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) technologies are widely seen as crucial to help decarbonize hard-to-abate industries. An EU Horizon 2020 co-funded research project called "innoVative bIo-based chains for CO2 VALorisation as aDded-value organIc acids" (VIVALDI) is embracing this circularity challenge by aiming to develop solutions to capture and convert the carbon dioxide emissions of bio-based industries into chemicals. In that respect, the ongoing project has achieved a first major milestone - an enzymatic biocatalyst to capture biogenic carbon dioxide from a Swedish biorefinery.

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At the forefront of waste utilization, bio-based industries have the potential to lead the way and create a new and more sustainable sector based on the principle of (biogenic) carbon capture and utilization (CCU) or carbon recycling.

At the same time, in the hard-to-abate sectors, the chemical industry is one of the most challenging, but also a very promising one.

In late June 2021, the European Union (EU) awarded EUR 7 million to the VIVALDI – innoVative bIo-based chains for CO2 VALorisation as aDded-value organIc acids – project consortium to transform the bio-based industry into a new, more environmentally friendly, and competitive sector.

Develop cost- and energy-efficient (bio)CCU

Led by Spain’s Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the VIVALDI project aims to develop a set of breakthrough biotechnologies to transform real off-gases from key biobased sectors – food and beverages, pulp and paper, bioethanol, and biochemicals – into novel feedstock for the chemical industry.

The core of the VIVALDI solution is to capture, enrich and transform in a two-step process, electrochemical and biological, the carbon dioxide (CO2) captured into four platform organic acids namely lactic acid (LA), succinic acid (SA), itaconic acid (IA) and 3-hydroxy propionic acid.

These platform biobased acids can then re-enter the production process of biorefineries to enhance their sustainability, or become building blocks for various biomaterials, for example, bioplastics and animal feed.

By integrating this concept, industries will “kill two birds with one stone”: not only will carbon emissions from biobased industries be reduced, but the production of organic compounds that currently is very energy-intensive will become cheaper and more sustainable.

Replicability is a key aspect of VIVALDI solutions, allowing other biorefineries and other industrial sectors to become more circular and reduce their environmental impact.

Based on this circular concept, biobased industries can reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, dependency on fossil carbon usage, and other key resources such as raw materials, land, and water.

A CO2 purification milestone reached

Sweden’s Luleå University of Technology (LTU) is one of the 16 partners of the VIVALDI consortium.

The task of the Biochemical Process Engineering group in the VIVALDI project is to capture, treat and enrich biogenic industrial emissions using a technology that combines carbon capture and scrubbing and to provide highly pure CO2 compressed gas to partners for further utilization.

The partners will use the CO2 stream for producing high-added value organic acids with an important role in various industries, such as the food industry.

Sampling activities started in the summer of 2022, when Io Antonopoulou, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Biochemical Process Engineering at LTU, lead the capture and collection of on-site off-gas streams from the VIVALDI partner SunPine AB, a biorefinery in northern Sweden.

Setting up the flue gas sample collection rig at SunPine. The flue gas samples are collected and compressed into high-pressure gas cylinders for transportation to the LTU lab (photo courtesy LTU).

From the roof of SunPine’s industrial plant in Piteå, flue gas was collected from the flue stack. Consisting of CO2 and other substances the collected gas was packed under high pressure in large gas bottles thanks to the expertise of Austrian project partner Krajete GmbH.

These gas bottles with compressed flue gas were then transported to the lab at LTU where Io Antonopoulou and her research team worked to produce a clean CO2 gas. This cleaned gas will then be sent to the project partners for further processing into chemicals.

Enzymatic biocatalyst

Io Antonopoulou, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Biochemical Process Engineering at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Sweden (photo courtesy LTU).

One of the major challenges of conventional carbon capture technologies is the high cost. Carbon capture from flue gas typically includes an absorption step whereby the CO2 is “bound” to a liquid absorbent.

The carbon-rich absorbent is heated in a desorption step to release the captured CO2 which is then further compressed or liquefied. The desorption and subsequent gas compression require considerable energy while transporting compressed or liquefied CO2 for further use or storage adds additional costs.

The techniques Io Antonopoulou’s research team uses are said to be more sustainable and cost-effective.

The concept’s innovation is that an enzyme acts as a biocatalyst and accelerates the conversion of CO2 to bicarbonate which is a water-soluble form of CO2 so the absorption step goes very fast.

Instead of relying solely on chemicals that absorb carbon dioxide, our research team captures carbon dioxide using an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase. It is an extremely fast enzyme that can be used alone or combined with other more well-known capture techniques, said Io Antonopoulou.

An important advantage of having CO2 in the form of water-soluble bicarbonate is that less energy is required for the subsequent desorption step. This makes the concept much less energy-intensive, up to 25-30 percent compared to conventional methods.

We believe that the role of carbonic anhydrase as a catalyst in carbon capture will increase enormously in the coming years, Io Antonopoulou said.



The 16 partners range from biobased industries – SunPine AB (SE); Cervecera Damm S.L (ES); and Bioagra AS (PL) – technology developers – VITO-Vlaamse Instelling Voor Technologisch Onderzoek N.V. (BE); UFZ-Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (DE); LEITAT-Acondicionamiento Tarrasense (ES); Processium (FR); Avantium BV (NL); UAB-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ES); BOKU-University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (AT); LTU-Luleå University of Technology (SE) – to end-users – Nutrition Sciences BV (BE); Novamont SrL (IT) – will all combined research how to use carbon dioxide (CO2) along its entire value chain: from the capture of their CO2 emissions to the conversion of it into new biochemicals.

The team is complemented by three knowledge hubs: the sustainability and circularity expert group – BETA UVIC-Technology Centre for Biodiversity, Ecology and Environmental Technology of the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (ES), the technology and innovation consultancy Isle Utilities (ISLE), and the European Association representing the Carbon Capture and Utilisation community in Europe (CO2 Value Europe).

The VIVALDI project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, under grant agreement No. 101000441.

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