How sustainably will we be living in 2030, Mr Angenent?

By 2030, I envisage us hardly using any fossil fuels. Oil imports will have stopped completely, coal will be a thing of the past and even the use of non-renewable natural gas will have been reduced. Forms of transport like cars, buses and lorries will run on electric power and we will heat our homes with solar panels on the roof.

In order to keep manufacturing carbon-based products like plastics or certain chemicals without resorting to fossil resources, we must find alternative sources for this raw material. Already today, we can produce carbon from organic waste or recycle it from industrial waste gases by using chemical processes. However, the metal catalysts employed in the process rely on clean CO2, which involves expensive cleansing of the waste gases before they are used. To minimise these costs, we are working on the utilisation of bacteria to produce carbon. Even though they work at a slower rate, these microbially produced catalysts do not require the same degree of purity as metal catalysts, which makes them financially more advantageous.

Prof. Dr. Largus (Lars) T. Angenent

Humboldt Professor for Applied Microbiology at the University of Tübingen

Amongst other things, Angenent investigates how bacteria can be optimised and utilised for synthesising fuels, chemicals and food.

The beings on whom all hopes are pinned are miniscule and live in complex communities: bacteria play a key role in gas fermentation, one of the most important sources of clean energy for the future. How to optimise and employ bacteria to synthesise fuels and chemicals is the subject of Lars Angenent’s research. A leading international bioprocess engineer, he himself developed the principles on which his most recent work is based by analysing the composition and interaction of microbial communities in the air of environments like hospitals and fermentation plants. He successfully puts his findings into practice in his own firm which develops and optimises microbes to store hydrogen and carbon dioxide in the form of methane. In the Centre for Applied Geosciences at the University of Tübingen, Angenent is set to generate ideas for developing new technologies. He will also drive microbiome analysis together with colleagues from neighbouring disciplines such as those at the Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine. His presence will help to ensure that Germany’s strong position in basic research in the field will achieve international eminence in applications as well.

Source: Website of Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

But a good scientific method alone is not enough. In the end, technological and economic factors determine whether an idea is viable. It will all depend on whether the methods we develop are scalable: can our ideas be implemented on an industrial scale and are they then still cost-effective? As a general rule, research is not plannable – and that’s a good thing. Research questions are often generated spontaneously; the best questions are the ones you wouldn’t have believed you would ever ask yourself five years ago. If I dare to take a peek at the future, however, I’m convinced that by 2030 we will have come an awful lot closer to my vision of a sustainable world.

What is your vision for 2030? How sustainable will we live? Will we master the path to a bioeconomy? What can each individual contribute? Tell us what you think in the comments!

January 2020

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