Acetic acid is a really versatile organic acid that is mainly produced from fossil sources using environmentally toxic catalysts, but there is growing demand for a more sustainable alternative. Recent research has demonstrated that certain acetogenic microorganisms can utilize methanol and CO2 through anaerobic fermentation to produce biobased acetic acid.

The objective of this PhD project is to develop a fermentation process for acetic acid production, utilizing an industrial methanol side stream—currently subjected to thermal treatment—and capturing CO2 from an industrial waste gas stream.

The initial phase of the project focuses on establishing anaerobic fermentation for acetate production, highlighting opportunities to enhance a process involving CO2 fixation and industrial methanol utilization. This part of the project involves investigating various microorganisms, both individually and in consortia, to assess their scalability and evaluate substrate toxicity with respect to the methanol side stream.

Due to the complexities of handling anaerobic bacteria, which require specialized equipment and expertise, the second phase of the project focuses on the metabolic engineering of Pichia pastoris (also known as Komagataella phaffii) for acetate production from methanol. A comparative analysis between genetically modified yeast strains and the previously established anaerobic fermentation will be conducted to determine the most sustainable and cost-effective acetic acid production system.

This project is carried out in the framework of the Competence Centers for Excellent Technologies (COMET) program of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency by Wood Kplus and in collaboration with Lenzing Group.