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Public summaries of business interaction vouchers

Reference number: BIVE3B001
Project title: Developing a novel chemo-enzymatic catalytic cascade for the production of stereoselective high-value chemicals
Lead academic partner: Jonathan Lloyd, University of Manchester
Industrial partner: Iustina Slabu, Johnson Matthey

Public summary: By combining for the first time Johnson Matthey expertise in biocatalysis with the University of Manchester experience in metal nanoparticle catalysts, this project aims to develop a novel chemo-enzymatic catalytic cascade for the production of stereoselective, high-value chemicals. We will first optimise reaction conditions for a two-pot sequential process (biocatalyst followed by nanoparticle catalyst). Following optimisation, we will combine both catalysts in a single-pot, reducing operation time and waste. A key focus will be the use of deep eutectic solvents which are emerging as a promising solution for combining chemo-enzymatic reactions in a single vessel. DES have the additional benefit of being inexpensive, biodegradable, nontoxic, and recyclable. The use of deep eutectic solvents, combined with the biosynthesis of the nanoparticle from waste metals, offers a sustainable platform for developing high-value chemicals.

Reference number: BIVE3B002
Project title: Characterisation of plant root gene expression responses to a copper nanoparticle barrier using a transcriptomics approach
Lead academic partner: Keith Lindsey, Durham University
Industrial partner: Andrew Moore, Northumbrian Water and Matt Wilson, Intelligent Gels

Public summary: The blockages and maintenance costs that occur as a result of root ingress into sewer pipe systems is a serious and costly issue for Water Companies. A novel metal containing gel- based barrier is being developed in partnership with Intelligent Gels and NWL for direct application to pipes in situ (underground) and as a preventative coating for new pipes. We have evidence that the plant avoids the barrier by halting root growth and initiating “evasive” lateral root growth that ensures that the plant continues to thrive. The aim of this project is to understand, at a molecular level, how the plants respond to the barrier, specifically the interaction between plant root cells and the metal applied in the form of nanoparticles. Understanding this interaction will inform the development of a novel environmentally safe product for application to existing and new waste water pipes. This will increase sustainability and profitability for the water companies and hence aligns with the remit of the NIBB.

Reference number: BIVE3B003
Project title: Application of nano-flow cytometry for the characterisation of biomanufactured magnetic fluids
Lead academic partner: Alfred Fernandez-Castane, Aston University
Industrial partner: Dimitri Aubert, NanoFCM

Public summary: Magnetosomes are an exciting class of magnetic nanomaterials that are extracted from magnetotactic bacteria and can be used in biomedicine and biocatalysis. Importantly, the use of rapid, cost-effective and quantitative technologies for magnetosome characterisation will underpin the development of industrially-relevant magnetosome applications. This project combines the biotechnologies in magnetosome biomanufacturing from Aston University and experts in technology development for nanomaterials characterisation at nanoFCM, a SME that designs and developes nano-flow cytometry (nFCM) instruments. The aim of the project is to study the feasibility of using nFCM for the characterisation of magnetosome preparations. A key focus will be the optimisation of instrument and parameter configuration as well as the validation of datasets using commercial nanoparticles. Results will be compared with commonly used characterisation techniques.

Reference number: BIVE3B004
Project title: Probing metallation status to ensure high yields of a key speciality chemical
Lead academic partner: Martin Warren, University of Kent
Industrial partner: Jose Luis Molto Marin, Activatec Ltd

Public summary: Engineering biology is the application of engineering principles to the design of biological systems, especially with respect to sustainable and resource-efficient solutions to the societal challenges faced in producing speciality and commodity chemicals from biological rather than petrochemical sources. Harnessing the capabilities of organisms provides the opportunity through modification of biochemical pathways to make specific metabolites and thereby contributes significantly to sustainability and reduced emissions. However, as many enzymes within metabolic pathways require specific metal ions, there is a need to ensure that specific enzymes are fully metallated with the correct metal ion. In this project we aim to study the metalation of the terminal enzyme of a three-enzyme pathway for the sysnthesis of etoine, an important speciality chemical within the skin and sun care market. All three genes for etione synthesis (ectA-C) will be cloned within Bacillus subtilis and the metalation of the Fe-containing terminal enzyme will be studied.

Reference number: BIVE3B005
Project title: Potential anti-viral and therapeutic activities of the enzymatic degradation products of pharmaceutical polysaccharides modulated by metal ions
Lead academic partner: Edwin Yates, University of Liverpool
Industrial partner: Lynsay Cooper, Parker Howarth Bioscience

Public summary: Fragments of larger sugar molecules derived from the pharmaceutical blood thinner, heparin, and its precursors have shown promising anti-viral activities. In addition, these molecules diminish the symptoms of viral infections, e.g. inflammation, but as yet have not been optimised. Industrially, pharmaceutical low molecular weight heparins are derived from the sodium or calcium salts of the parental heparin, using a heparinase enzyme obtained exclusively from the soil bacteria Pedobacter heparinus. Using an expanded arsenal of metal salts, together with alternate enzymes from Bacteroides spp, we have found that the degradation products are different, and these new fragments are highly likely to include improved biological activities.We propose partnering a UK SME, who can supply raw heparin materials, while we will employ enzymes from Bacteroides spp. in the presence of metal ions and follow the fragments produced, isolate them, and determine their potential as both anti-viral agents and as novel therapeutics.

Reference number: BIVE3B006
Project title: Enzyme engineering for the improvement of lignin breakdown for fine chemical production or value-added products
Lead academic partner: Paul James, Northumbria University
Industrial partner: James Finnigan, Prozomix

Public summary: There is a dire need to reduce the emissions of global warming greenhouse gases in order to prevent the worst outcomes of the ongoing climate crisis. Our dependency on fossil fuels is not limited to transportation or energy purposes, they are also the life blood of the chemicals industry. The breakdown of lignocellulosic biomass (LB) can help the transition away from fossil fuels and play a pivotal role in developing the bioeconomy. The overall aim of this proposal is to improve the deconstruction of LB by improving the activity and substrate scope of two metalloenzymes (GcoA and CueO). This will be achieved using computational simulations that will help us design mutants of these enzymes that can then be tested experimentally. The enzymes will be tested in a laboratory environment and then scaled-up (by Prozomix) and tested as a pre-treatment step to allow LB to be degraded in larger-scale fermentation

Reference number: BIVE3B007
Project title: Assessing nickel uptake and pyrolysis potential of willow biomass produced from nickel-contaminated soils
Lead academic partner: Elizabeth Rylott, University of York
Industrial partner: Kevin Lindegaard, Crops for Energy

Public summary: Nickel is a significant global contaminant. In the UK, heavy industrial activity along the Lower Swansea Valley in Wales in the 1900s, including nickel production at the Clydach refinery, has resulted in significant environmental pollution. Researchers at University of York are studying phytoremediation-based technologies, and downstream processes for nickel-rich plant biomass, to maximise recovery of nickel, remediation of contaminated land, and platform chemical production from the biomass. To achieve these goals, we will use willow, which has the ability to grow vigorously on metal-contaminated soils. Crops for Energy, that has expertise in growing willows, will provide characterised varieties, and data on metal tolerance. We will use pot-based experiments at University of York, using soil prepared to mirror those metal profiles found on the Clydach site. The plants will be characterised for nickel uptake and tolerance, and the biomass tested for catalytic activity and platform chemical production.

Reference number: BIVE3B008
Project title: Improving ethylene production using non-heme iron containing ethylene forming enzymes
Lead academic partner: Warispreet Singh, Northumbria University
Industrial partner: James Finnigan, Prozomix

Public summary: Ethylene is used as feedstock in a wide range of essential industries including plastics, textiles, solvents, fibres, detergents and foams. Ethylene is mainly obtained by the cracking of fossil fuels. An alternative production route is through the mechanistic study of ethylene-producing microorganisms. Microorganisms that express ethylene-forming enzymes are a promising biotechnology target as they represent a sustainable pathway for producing ethylene from lingocellulose biomass. The overall aim of the project is to use computational and experimental approaches improve ethylene production by ethylene-forming enzymes from P. syringae pv. phaseolicola PK2. The enzyme mutants will be tested in a laboratory environment and then scaled-up (by Prozomix) to produce ethylene from lingocellulose biomass.

Reference number: BIVE3B010
Project title: Microbial recovery of e-tech metals
Lead academic partner: Jon Lloyd, University of Manchester
Industrial partner: Ollie Crush, Mint Innovation

Public summary: Management of metallic wastes is a significant global challenge; the 2020 UN Global e-waste Monitor reports that more than £7.9bn worth of gold, platinum, and other precious metals are lost to the global economy as e-wastes every year. In the UK, 2 million tonnes of e-wastes are discarded. The recovery of metals from these wastes would represent a significant resource, much of which is required to support the expansion of clean technologies. The geomicrobiology group at the University of Manchester has 20 years of experience studying the anaerobic conversion of waste metals to high-value nanoparticles by metal-reducing bacteria. Mint Innovation is developing the first full-scale biorefinery to recover metals from e-waste in the UK. This project brings both groups together for the first time, to develop strong and sustainable collaborative links that can help underpin bioprocess development and optimisation for Mint and related metal-biorecovery processes in the UK.

Reference number: BIVE3B012
Project title: Switching the iron in cytochromes P450 to expand their catalytic repertoire
Lead academic partner: Hazel Girvan, University of Huddersfield
Industrial partner: Matthew Hodges, Oxford Biotrans

Public summary: Enzymes are proving their worth as catalysts to produce substances of commercial interest in cleaner, greener, and more cost-effective ways than conventional chemical methods. A group of enzymes known as cytochromes P450 (P450s or CYPs) are increasingly chosen for to their ability to add oxygen atoms to diverse molecules; something that normally requires undesirable heavy metals and peroxides to achieve chemically. One P450, BM3, is particularly attractive due to its high efficiency and has been successfully adapted to make different variants that produce diverse molecules in an environmentally friendly manner. The crux of BM3’s reactivity is its heme cofactor that contains iron at its core. Here we propose to make novel versions of BM3 with different metal centres, starting with cobalt, to expand upon the enzyme’s capabilities and to further generate new molecules of commercial interest that can feed into biotechnological industries.

Reference number: BIVE3B013
Project title: Expanding the biocatalytic hydrogenation toolbox with [FeFe]-hydrogenases
Lead academic partner:  Simone Morra, University of Nottingham
Industrial partner: Giulia Pizzagalli, HydRegen

Public summary: Novel technologies that enable the uptake of industrial biotechnology to manufacture essential chemicals are critical for the chemicals sector to meet ambitious sustainability and NetZero emission targets. The lead academic is an expert in metallo-enzymes, and researches novel iron-iron hydrogenase enzymes. The potential applications of hydrogenases are wide-ranging, but no commercial processes currently use them. HydRegen aims to commercialise a technology reliant on hydrogenases; the company is pioneering a technology that enables slot-in biocatalytic alternatives to traditional precious-metal catalysts for hydrogenation reactions (that represent 20% of all chemical reactions). In this project, iron-iron hydrogenases studied by the academic group are assessed in partnership with HydRegen against criteria crucial for enzyme production and activity.

Reference number: BIVE3B014
Project title: Effects of biological and thermal pre-treatment of sewage sludge on trace elements availability for anaerobic digestion
Lead academic partner:  Yadir Bajon Fernandez, Cranfield University
Industrial partner: Giulia Pizzagalli, Anglian Water Services

Public summary: Anaerobic digestion is extensively used to stabilise and recovery energy from municipal sludge. To increase the energy recovery potential of anaerobic digestion, most UK water utilities have implemented pre-treatment technologies that can aid the biological degradation of the sludge. While these have provided great benefits, our ability to fully optimise anaerobic digestion processes remains limited, as it remains unclear how different pre-treatments affect the presence of trace elements (metals) and ligand formation in the treated sludge, which play a key role in the biological degradation process. In this project, the influence of thermal and biological pre-treatments on trace element speciation and bioavailability will be investigated; these pretreatments are important cofactors that help maintain process stability and optimise the recovery of renewable energy from municipal sludge.

Reference number: BIVE3B015
Project title: Characterising fly ash wastes for phytomining of rare earth elements
Lead academic partner: Liz Rylott, University of York
Industrial partner: Jake Barnes-Gott, Hive Energy

Public summary: Rare earth elements (REEs) are critical components in many clean energy technologies such as wind turbines, electric motors, computers and smartphones. These elements are plentiful, but highly dispersed in our environment and thus mining and processing is expensive, with a high carbon footprint and significant environmental damage. The majority of REEs are supplied by China, but given the criticality of these elements, governments worldwide are increasingly looking for ways to tap into domestic resources, and reduce carbon impacts. Plants have an exquisite ability to selectively recover metals from our environment, moreover hyperaccumulator species can take up REEs to many thousand-fold concentrations in their tissues. This biology could be used as an environmentally sustainable way to recover REEs. There is evidence that fly ash wastes contain relative high amounts of REEs; this project will characterise these wastes enabling methodologies, including phytomining, to be developed for their recovery.

Reference number: BIVE3B016
Project title: Understanding the role of metal ions in E. coli across temperature and PH conditions to optimise the manufacture of next-generation bioproducts
Lead academic partner: Annalisa Occhipinti, Teesside University
Industrial partner: Graham McCreath, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies

Public summary: Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies use microscopic organism fermentation to express new bioproducts, including proteins). However, several parameters, including temperature, acidity conditions, and metal concentrations strongly affect the production cycle. Hence, several expensive and time-consuming tests must be performed to identify the optimal process conditions, with substantial impact on waste and energy consumption. Traditional data-driven approaches have failed to precisely determine the role and impact of the parameters on the production cycle and new advanced approaches are needed. We propose a two-step approach that combines (i) a computational representation of the metabolic activities (i.e., chemical reactions happening inside the cell) of the microscopic organisms during fermentation, and (ii) advanced computational models (artificial intelligence) to investigate the impact of metal concentrations, temperature, and acidity condition on the metabolism of the organisms to optimise the production cycle.

Reference number: BIVE3B017
Project title: Biomining of high-value metals from electrical battery waste
Lead academic partner:  Thomas Torode, Keele University
Industrial partner: Darren Billing, TMT First

Public summary: Europe produces an estimated 200,000 tonnes of spent consumer batteries each year. In addition to being a significant source of waste, these batteries contain high levels of hazardous heavy metals. To improve the sustainable use of batteries, conserve natural resource and minimize environmental degradation, novel biotechnology routes towards heavy metal biomining are required. Aquatic plants have evolved mechanisms to survive and thrive in metal-contaminated environments, and this project will explore utilising them as biomining agents for the recovery of metals from battery waste. We have identified a plant capable of selectively incorporating lithium into its root biomass, which can be recovered to incorporate lithium into a circular economy approach via biomining. This project will test the feasibility of using the plant directly in battery waste, and determine the scalability of this process.

Reference number: BIVE3B018
Project title: Bio-hydrogen production from metal-rich sludge return liquors via bioelectrochemical systems – modelling the impact of the technology in the UK water sector
Lead academic partner: Pavlina Theodosiou, Newcastle University
Industrial partner: Paul Banfield, Veolia

The wastewater treatment industry faces several challenges, such as plants at capacity, increased demand due to population rise and the need to meet stringent regulations around discharge consents and net-zero targets. We developed a retrofittable bioelectrochemical technology that exploits the biological processes of metal-reducing bacteria in wastewater, resulting in enhanced treatment without the need for aeration and simultaneous resource recovery (i.e. hydrogen). Bio-hydrogen production is driven by hydrogenases which have intriguing metal requirements (iron and nickel) making the return sludge liquor a great candidate for hydrogen recovery due to its increased concentration of metals. Treating return sludge liquor anaerobically reduces energy costs and consumption. We will collaborate with Veolia, using their in-house software to model and assess the impact of this innovation on hydrogen production and energy reduction in treatment plants.