Biotechnology

Innovation is crucial to fulfil the potential of industrial biotechnology for sustainable production of fuels, chemicals, materials, food and feed. Similarly, scientific and technological advances in environmental biotechnology are needed to enable novel approaches to water purification, and ‘waste-to-product’ processes thus contributing to a circular economy. Increased fundamental knowledge encompassing enzymes, microorganisms and processes are essential for progress in this field. The Department of Biotechnology covers this research area and, based on new insights, selects, designs and tests new biobased catalysts, micro-organisms, and processes.

The department encompasses five research sections:

News

09 November 2023

Are Sustainability and Safety Incompatible?

In the world of biotechnology, safety and sustainability might sometimes be at odds. When conflicts arise, decision-makers must carefully weigh the trade-offs, addressing potential risks and ethical concerns in order to make informed choices. According to two TU Delft professors, safety and sustainability need to go hand in hand to ensure that biotechnological processes and products are developed and managed responsibly. text Heather Montague Risks and responsibilities With the rise of the circular economy, finding ways to use waste for other purposes has become a hot topic. But there are risks involved, says Lotte Asveld , Associate Professor of Ethics & Biotechnology at TU Delft. “People have high standards when it comes to using wastes as resources. Anything that comes out of the sewer doesn’t feel very comfortable to have in your house.” In that sense, she sees a clash between sustainability and safety but also believes they should be combined. “We can’t make everything 100% safe, but we should look towards what risks people find acceptable.” Societal acceptance of using waste as a resource requires that regulations and responsibilities be well aligned. We also need to reevaluate the way we learn about risks, according to Asveld. She notes that biotechnology is strictly regulated, but in the chemical industry, companies themselves are responsible for learning about and identifying risks. “As new risky substances keep emerging, what needs to happen in the innovation ecosystem to make sure that these responsibilities have a place?” Learning about these risks is not always an inherent part of a company’s structure and that needs to change. “My objective is to make sure that safety is something that we talk about, that we don’t take for granted, that we discuss amongst each other; what does it mean, how can we achieve it, and how do we see our responsibility to society and achieving safety?” The future is green The term ‘green chemistry’ was introduced some thirty years ago, according to Ulf Hanefeld , Professor of Biotechnology at TU Delft’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. The aim is to enable society to make what is currently made, or alternatives, in a sustainable and safe manner. “So how can I make the compounds that we as a society think we need in a sustainable manner, starting from readily available materials, performing reactions that are inherently safe,” says Hanefeld. “For me, safety and sustainability go hand in hand.” There are advantages and opportunities that come along with green chemistry. If you take all the starting materials, make only products out of it and don’t generate any waste, that results in higher profit. And there is also an opportunity to develop a new chemistry. “Consider that our current chemistry always starts from petrochemicals, which are very low in terms of functionality,” Hanefeld explains. “If you use sustainable materials like sugars or lignin or plant waste, that is always highly functionalised. Because we have a new type of starter material, we’re doing it all new, and it is a chance to develop it safe from the start. Download article Download article

News

15 December 2020

Five 20k grants for cross-campus bioengineering research projects

In response to the first call for bioengineering research proposals, Delft Bioengineering Institute received a stunning amount of thirteen interfacultary proposals. After a thorough peer review process, eight very good to excellent proposals surfaced. From these, MT BEI has selected the five winning projects listed below. We want to thank all BEI PIs for submitting proposals and all reviewers for their efforts, knowing they were all quite busy already. We hope that 2021 will see the start of a second five-year term for the institute, so we can continue to support these promising cross-campus collaborations! >> Biochars for reducing methane emissions Methane has a high global warming potential, and landfill is one of the largest contributors of global human-caused methane emissions. Methane treatment using engineered microbial oxidation systems is one of the ways to reduce these emissions. Biochars, carbon-rich materials produced from sources such as municipal solid wastes, wastewater sludge and wood, have gained interest in the waste management industry as media to enhance control of landfill gas emissions. In this project, led by Julia Gebert of Geoscience & Engineering (CiTG), BEI PIs of four TU Delft faculties team up to investigate the potential of biochars for enhancing microbial methane oxidation in biofilters. Project title: Effects of biochar on the performance of microbial CH4 oxidation in biofilters to reduce landfill gas emissions. BEI PIs: Julia Gebert (CiTG/GSE), Wiebren de Jong (3mE/P&E), Aljoscha Wahl (TNW/BT), Martin Pabst (TNW/BT), Thomas Abeel (EWI/Bioinformatics) >> Regenerating neuronal circuits using ultrasound People suffering from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, have impaired neuronal circuits. Generation of new neuronal circuits by using a patient’s own stem cells may prove helpful in treating the disease. One of the difficulties in inducing neurons from stem cells, is the low efficiency rate we are able to achieve so far. In this project, BEI PIs Tiago Costa of Microelectronics (EWI) and Dimphna Meijer of Bionanoscience (TNW) join forces to explore the use of ultrasound for effectively building active neuronal networks from stem cells. Project title: SoundCircuit: Regeneration of neuronal circuits using ultrasound BEI PIs: Tiago Costa (EWI/ME), Dimphna Meijer (TNW/BN) >> Medical implants to investigate cell mechanobiology In order to study the cell’s behaviour and differentiation, we need to be able to measure the mechanical, electrical and biochemical signals that are dynamically transmitted throughout the cells. This requires the creation of biomaterial models equipped with different sensor types. In this project, BEI PIs Mohammad J. Mirzaali of Biomechanical Engineering (3mE) and Massimo Mastrangeli of Microelectronics (EWI) will team up to design, fabricate and test the proof-of-concept for medical implants equipped with force sensors that can reach a sensitivity level of one micronewton, so the mechanobiology of cells can be effectively investigated. Project title: Sixth Sense Biomaterials BEI PIs: Mohammad J. Mirzaali (3mE/BM), Massimo Mastrangeli (EWI/ME) >> Advanced cellular nanoimaging Structural biology has been essential in understanding the cell. Studying the dynamics of biological systems requires advanced imaging tools, particularly those that can bring both high spatial and temporal resolutions. In this project, BEI PIs Chirlmin Joo of Bionanoscience (TNW) and Carlas Smith of Delft Centre for Systems and Control (3mE) will join forces to develop a novel methodology for fast absolute FRET distance measurement, taking advantage of smFRET (fast but biased molecular dynamics) and localization microscopy (unbiased but static localization). Project title: New structural biology by integrating nanoscopy and single-molecule Forster resonance energy transfer BEI PIs: Chirlmin Joo (TNW/BN), Carlas Smith (3mE/DCSC) >> 3D-printing bacterial electrodes for CO2 conversion In order to achieve a sustainable future, we need to use abundant molecules such as CO2, water and renewable electricity to create our organic chemicals and fuels. Microorganisms have the ability to enable upgrading of CO2 by microbial electrosynthesis. In this project, Ludovic Jourdin of Biotechnology (TNW) and Kunal Masania of the Shaping Matter Lab (LR) will team up to explore strategies to shape carbon electrodes into hierarchical porous electrodes for microbial electrosynthesis and study the role of hierarchical porosity on microbial and electrochemical activity. Project title: BACTRODE: Hierarchical 3D-printing of bacterial electrodes for breakthrough in CO2 conversion BEI PIs: Ludovic Jourdin (TNW/BT), Kunal Masania (LR/SML)