The BUS Lab takes an integrated approach to innovating technologies that utilize and sequester biogenic carbon. The aim of our work is to leverage the bioeconomy for carbon drawdown. We are bridging fundamental advances in synthetic biology and chemical catalysis with bioprocess engineering to innovate carbon-negative bioproducts that range from feed, chemicals, fuels, and materials. 

When developing a new technology, the BUS Lab takes into account the entire technology-to-market pathway, starting with fundamental research and ending with commercialization. Such a comprehensive approach increases the odds of commercial success by eliminating developmental hurdles and pitfalls at an early stage. 

Research Areas of Interest

CO2 Sequestration, CO2 Utilization, Microbial Electrosynthesis, Mixotrophic Fermentation, Soil Carbon Enhancement, Graphitic Carbon Materials, Bio-Based Energy Storage, Systems Modeling, Life Cycle Carbon Accounting, Techno-Economic Analysis

Current Research Projects:

Biocarbon Li-Ion Battery Anodes

Around the globe, the demand for electrochemical energy storage is increasing rapidly due to a combination of decreasing costs in renewable electricity (e.g. solar & wind power), governmental policies promoting electrification, and a desire by the public for energy with zero carbon emissions. Lithium-ion batteries are the leading form of electrochemical energy storage for electric vehicles and the grid. The anode of a lithium-ion cell is almost entirely made of graphite (see figure below), constituting 15 - 30% of total cell mass and 11 - 23% of total cell manufacturing cost ($10 - $20 per kilogram). 

The BUS lab is developing a low-cost, carbon-negative process for converting sustainable biomass resources into high quality graphite for use in battery anodes. See X-ray diffractograms below for the various feedstocks that we have successfully converted to graphite anode materials. Notably, our process is carbon-negative, meaning the process results in a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Sagues WJ, Yang J, Monroe N, Han SD, Vinzant T, Yung M, Jameel H, Nimlos M, Park S. A Simple Method for Producing Bio-Based Anode Materials for Lithium-Ion Batteries (2020) just accepted by Green Chemistry

Bio-based battery anodes developed by the BUS Lab exhibit exceptional electrochemical performance, as shown in the figure below. The graphitization process is currently being refined and optimized to improve capacity retention.

Sagues WJ, Yang J, Monroe N, Han SD, Vinzant T, Yung M, Jameel H, Nimlos M, Park S. A Simple Method for Producing Bio-Based Anode Materials for Lithium-Ion Batteries (2020) just accepted by Green Chemistry

Microbial Electrosynthesis

Bio-butanol is a promising biofuel due to its high energy density and potential for drop-in fuel applications, but has not achieved wide spread commercial success due in part to the high costs and low yields associated with heterotrophic acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation, wherein at least 33% of carbon substrate is wasted as CO2. Several strains of Clostridium have recently been identified to be effective at anaerobic, non-photosynthetic mixotrophic fermentation of organic (sugar) and inorganic (CO, CO2) substrates, with biofuel yields approaching and/or exceeding theoretical maximums (based on sugar feedstock). Historically, most efforts in developing bioelectrochemical processes have focused on microbial fuel cells for oxidation of carbon substrates to generate electricity. Microbial electrosynthesis works in the opposite direction, using electricity to reduce carbon substrates into high value chemicals & fuels, such as butanol. Given the incredibly low cost of renewable electricity from solar and wind resources, there is exciting potential to develop new mixotrophic microbial electrosynthesis processes for the production of biofuels from sugar, CO2, and renewable electricity.

Novel bioelectrochemical annular reactor under development by the BUS Lab for mixotrophic microbial electrosynthesis of butanol from hexose sugars and CO2. Renewable energy allows for cycling of redox mediators, with oxidized redox mediators (ORM) and reduced redox mediators (RRM) labeled. The RRMs act as external reducing equivalents for butanol synthesis.

CO2 Removal Technologies

Biomass-enabled technologies and systems that permanently remove atmospheric CO2 must be developed and deployed rapidly if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The BUS Lab is investigating low capital-intensity opportunities to integrate CO2 capture and/or utilization into novel and existing biomass-enabled technologies and systems. For example, we are interested in integrating CO2 capture into alkali pulping technologies, such as kraft pulping, as shown below. 

Sagues WJ, Jameel H, Sanchez DL, Park S. Prospects for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture & Storage (BECCS) in the United States Pulp and Paper Industry. (2020) Energy & Environmental Science

We are also interested in designing biosystems that utilize organic waste-derived CO2 to improve the sustainability of agriculture, as shown below.  

Sagues WJ, Assis CA, Hah P, Sanchez DL, Johnson Z. Decarbonizing agriculture through the conversion of animal manure to dietary protein and ammonia fertilizer. (2019) Bioresoure Technology

We are also interested in coupling bioenergy with emerging direct air capture (DAC) technologies. Bioenergy offers synergistic benefits to DAC, including high temperature thermal energy for liquid solvent DAC and CO2 removal enhancement. And, DAC imparts benefits to bioenergy, including locational flexibility.

Sagues WJ, Park S, Jameel H, Sanchez DL. Enhanced carbon dioxide removal from coupled direct air capture – bioenergy systems (2019) Sustainable Energy & Fuels

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