27. Jan 2021
The annual Green Talents Competition, organised by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), has been won by Laura Rovira Alsina, a doctoral student in Water Science and Technology at the University of Girona (Spain).
Laura was recognised for her work within the scope of the EU-funded BioRECO2VER project, a project that is focussed on bio-electrochemical systems for the conversion of CO2 into chemical building blocks under thermophilic conditions.
The Green Talents Competition – International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development – promotes the international exchange of innovative green ideas from different research fields. The young research talents come from different countries and scientific disciplines and are honoured for their outstanding achievements in making our society more sustainable. The talents are selected by a jury of German experts from different research disciplines and the award winners gain unique access to the country's research elite.
Laura’s research involved finding a way to effectively buffer the fluctuations of sustainable energy sources – solar, wind, hydropower – by developing a proper strategy for storing energy, other than using batteries.
The approach Laura is working on is to use the electricity from renewable sources in bioelectrochemical systems when it is not needed elsewhere. In these systems, bacteria convert CO2 to organic chemicals.
These chemicals can be stored and later used as a raw material to make a range of products (acetate, ethanol, butyrate, among others). She was able to show that this technology is not only robust enough to work under less-than-optimal energy supply conditions, but that these irregularities in energy supply even increase the production of organic chemicals per unit of energy consumption.
Using mixed bacteria consortia from conventional wastewater treatment plants as a catalyst for the sluggish reaction of CO2 reduction, added value to the process as it eliminated the need to buy expensive new bacterial strains. Moreover, this also proved to increase the resilience of the system.
The jury nominated her research mainly because they were impressed by the multi-level approach of her research. They lauded the concept of using surplus electricity to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by using bacteria in bioelectrochemical systems to produce organic chemicals.
Although Laura is engaged in fundamental research, she is also interested in creating knowledge for real-life applications in a coordinated and integrated way across sectors for maximum effectiveness.
In an interview with Bio-Based News, she explained how the desire to make the world a better place formed the motivation for her research.
“But I also believe that we have to think clearly and start with small things that one can change on an individual level using the developed skills and interests. Microbial electrochemical technologies have become a hotspot for developing a versatile platform for synthesising fuels and chemical building blocks from CO2 using electricity as an electron donor,” she told the interviewer.
She said that working on the BioRECO2VER project and the results obtained had only stimulated her interest further in researching how to increase the appropriate working parameters to obtain higher value compounds with the help of genetically modified organisms. In that respect, she said: “I am grateful for the opportunity that the BioRECO2VER project has given me over these years.”
She added: “Winning the Green Talents Competition reinforces the dedication with which I face the challenge to achieve a more conscious and sustainable planet.”
The BioRECO2VER project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 760431.