CarbaZymes project: imitating the chemistry of nature

Imitating the chemistry of nature in order to obtain clean and sustainable chemical processes is the goal of project CarbaZymes, funded in the European EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. The consortium held its mid-term review meeting in Brussels, at the Directorate General for Research & Innovation.

The Carbon-Carbon bond is at the base of most of the organic molecules and processes, such as the biosynthesis of the plants. Image: CSIC. Led by the coordinator, Professor W.D. Fessner from the Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany), PIs, researchers and managers of seven universities, six small and medium companies and one large company met with the Project Officer Dr A. Fuentes and external reviewer Dr E. Atanes.

The consortium, formed by 14 partners, with a collective scientific experience of more than 150 years in biocatalysis, aims to revolutionize certain production methods in the chemical industry and to scale them up to demonstration level. After securing IP, these will be ready to be taken up by the relevant industries.

The Carbon-Carbon bond

The scientists will imitate nature to develop synthesis methods to obtain molecules using Carbon-Carbon (C-C) bonds. This bond is at the base of most of the organic molecules. For instance, plants use CO2 and light to bio synthesize sugar through C-C bonds (photosynthesis), in order to obtain energy and to grow. Another example is microorganisms, which feed on organic matter, which is for them a carbon source. To do so, microorganisms brake firstly the C-C bonds of bigger molecules and, afterwards, they synthesize new molecules according to their metabolic needs, using C-C bonds.

Attendees at the CarbaZymes meeting in Brussels.Pere Clapés, a CSIC research professor, explains: "If we can isolate enzymes that do these processes and we put them together with the molecules we want to joint through C-C bonds, we will be capable of obtaining synthesis processes highly selective which, also, need little energy and generate less waste”. Besides, says Clapés, it could be an alternative to the use of petrochemical compounds, to the metallic catalysts or to processes that require high temperatures and pressures.

The chance of obtaining a more efficient and selective chemistry using natural enzymes and mild reaction conditions, like the ones in nature, is very attractive because reduces the use of corrosive chemicals, organic solvents, toxic metals and energy. Therefore, it is cheaper, cleaner and safer.

The Biotransformation and Bioactive Molecules Group led by Pere Clapés at the CSIC’s Institut de Química Avançada de Catalunya is one of the partners of the CarbaZymes project, which has a total funding of 9 Million Euros.

Nowadays, the scientists are working to apply these processes to obtain, on one hand, bulk and low priced products which are produced in high quantities and, on the other hand, high valued chemical products. Also, they are working to obtain groups of molecules that can be used as puzzle-pieces by the chemical companies to obtain new compounds according to their needs.