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Upcycling CO2 into energy-rich long-chain compounds via electrochemical and metabolic engineering


Upcycling of carbon dioxide (CO2) into value-added products represents a substantially untapped opportunity to tackle environmental issues and achieve a circular economy. Compared with easily available C1/C2 products, nevertheless, efficient and sustainable synthesis of energy-rich long-chain compounds from CO2 still remains a grand challenge. Here we describe a hybrid electro-biosystem, coupling spatially separate CO2 electrolysis with yeast fermentation, that efficiently converts CO2 to glucose with a high yield. We employ a nanostructured copper catalyst that can stably catalyse pure acetic acid production with a solid-electrolyte reactor. We then genetically engineer Saccharomyces cerevisiae to produce glucose in vitro from electro-generated acetic acid by deleting all defined hexokinase genes and overexpression of heterologous glucose-1-phosphatase. In addition, we showcase that the proposed platform can be easily extended to produce other products like fatty acids using CO2 as the carbon source. These results illuminate the tantalizing possibility of a renewable-electricity-driven manufacturing industry.

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Fig. 1: Schematic illustration of the in vitro artificial sugar synthesis system.
Fig. 2: Electrocatalytic CO reduction to pure acetic acid using the GB-Cu catalyst.
Fig. 3: Engineering of S. cerevisiae strains.
Fig. 4: Glucose and free fatty acid generation via microbial fermentation.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request. Source data are provided with this paper.


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J. Zeng acknowledges the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2021YFA1500500, 2019YFA0405600), National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars (21925204), National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC; U19A2015), the Dalian National Laboratory (DNL) Cooperation Fund, Chinese Academy of Science (CAS; DNL202003), K. C.Wong Education (GJTD-2020-15), Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, Provincial Key Research and Development Program of Anhui (202004a05020074) and University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) Research Funds of the Double First-Class Initiative (YD2340002002). C.X. acknowledges the NSFC (22102018 and 52171201), the Central Government Funds of Guiding Local Scientific and Technological Development for Sichuan Province (no. 2021ZYD0043) and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China for startup funding (A1098531023601264). T.Y. acknowledges the NSFC (32071416), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2020YFA0907800 and 2021YFA0911000), the Shenzhen Institute of Synthetic Biology Scientific Research Program (grant no. JCHZ20200003) and Shenzhen Key Laboratory for the Intelligent Microbial Manufacturing of Medicines. T.Z. acknowledges the NSFC (22005291) and University of Electronic Science and Technology of China for startup funding (A1098531023601356). We thank beamline BL14W1 of Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility for providing the beamtime. We also thank F. Jin for helpful discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



The project was conceptualized and supervised by J. Zeng, T.Y. and C.X.; T.Z. and M.Z. prepared the catalysts and performed the catalytic tests. L.W., X. Liu and S.G. performed the yeast fermentation. T.Z., M.Z., W.X. and J.L. performed the catalyst characterizations. J. Zhao carried out density functional theory calculations. X. Li, C.L. and Q.J. performed the X-ray absorption fine structure measurements. J.B. helped in the analysis of data. T.Z., C.X., T.Y. and J. Zeng wrote the paper with input from all authors. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jie Zeng, Tao Yu or Chuan Xia.

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Nature Catalysis thanks Jens Nielsen and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Zheng, T., Zhang, M., Wu, L. et al. Upcycling CO2 into energy-rich long-chain compounds via electrochemical and metabolic engineering. Nat Catal 5, 388–396 (2022).

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