The Usack group is currently engaged in three main project areas.
The first involves the development of a novel experimental technology, the ‘Precision Membrane Micro-Aerator, (PreMAer), involving continuous bioreactors that combine: 1) the well-defined gas transfer properties of membranes; with 2) the precision of gas flow controllers; and 3) the trace detection capabilities of optical O2 sensors. The team has already validated an abiotic prototype and is now testing a scaled-up system for experiments involving anaerobic microbiomes. One of the first applications we intend to test is the effect of microaeration on various anaerobic digestion applications. Anaerobic digestion produces methane-rich biogas that can be used for many of the same applications as natural gas. The cool thing about biogas though is that it is derived from organic wastes rather than ancient carbonaceous fossils!
The second project involves another anaerobic bioprocess, but instead of producing methane, we steer the microbiome towards the production of ‘green chemicals,’ which serve a myriad of industrial applications. Our production process is more sustainable than conventional modes of production because we use organic waste as the starting material. Currently, we are converting discarded bakery products into carboxylic acid compounds that can be used as ‘natural’ antibiotics, livestock feed supplements, or platform-chemicals for liquid-fuels, cosmetics, and fragrances.
The third project is much broader in scale. We intend to develop a system-wide model of an exciting new technology that turns CO2 and reactive N-containing effluents into edible proteins using only surplus renewable energy as a power source. The technology has already been demonstrated in the lab, but now we want to determine if it will be economical at full-scale. We also want to quantify the extent to which the technology reduces environmental impacts compared to conventional meat and vegetable-protein production. To do this, our systems model requires that we consider all aspects of the technology along its entire life cycle. This model will allow us to answer many ‘What-If…?’ questions without the need to run long-term experiments in the lab.
Mail.: x@y with x = j.usack y = uni-tuebingen.de