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Edmonton research group copies plants to cut carbon emissions

Innovative project is up for international XPrize

Ehsan Jenab is heading up an artificial photosynthesis project at Ingenuity Lab that is in the running for the $7.5-million XPrize.

Kevin Tuong / Metro Order this photo

Ehsan Jenab is heading up an artificial photosynthesis project at Ingenuity Lab that is in the running for the $7.5-million XPrize.

An Edmonton research group is mimicking plants in a lab to capture carbon emissions and turn them into useful chemicals.

Ehsan Jenab is the leader of the Ingenuity Lab project that is in the running for the Carbon XPrize, which could mean international fame and up to $7.5 million in funding.

“Our process is completely inspired by nature,” Jenab said.

“If you look at plant cells, the plant cell itself is actually like a tiny energy factory. We were thinking we should be able to mimic that process in vitro conditions, outside the plant.”

Ingenuity Lab is a provincially funded initiative led by Dr. Carlo Montemagno – one of the world’s leading nanotechnology experts – and has other cutting-edge projects on the go including a 4D printer.

The artificial photosynthesis project came about in response to growing global energy demands and climate change.

“We were thinking, what if we could turn the CO2 into something valuable, not just capture it?” Jenab said.

The team is developing a “multi-enzyme platform” that will generate small organic molecules from industrial CO2 and, through fermentation turn it into other chemicals. One example could be nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH), which is used in pharmaceutical drug development.

Jenab said fuel companies in particular are likely to take interest in the innovation.

“We can attract the attention of fossil fuel companies that want to reduce their CO2 emissions,” he said.

“They would reduce their CO2 emissions and also change that emission to, for example, renewable solvents. And they can reuse those solvents.”

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