Spinverse supported FuturoLEAF to secure 2.9 M€ of funding for a sustainable photosynthetic cell factory concept

The FuturoLEAF research project was kicked off in autumn 2020 after receiving funding from the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) EU call. The aim of the FuturoLEAF project is to design a solid-state cell factory (SSCF) that efficiently captures COand light by using photosynthetic microbial cells and nanocellulosic building blocks, thus enabling more efficient and sustainable chemical production. Spinverse supported the project consortium in the project proposal phase, securing a winning proposal in this competitive call.

To date, up to 80% of the world’s energy and chemical industry demands are covered by fossil sources. To mitigate societal and environmental challenges such as climate change and scarce resource, a paradigm shift is needed from dependency of fossil sources towards sustainable energy and chemicals production.

Technologies based on photosynthesis are a promising sustainable alternative, but they are still suffering from low efficiency and limitations for substrates, and this is the challenge that FuturoLEAF is aiming to tackle: FuturoLEAF aims to improve the production efficiency of target chemicals up to 6-fold compared with the current systems.

The FuturoLEAF SSCF technology to be developed in this project draws its inspiration from the green leaf structure and function: nature’s outstanding solution for producing energy from CO2 and sunlight. By designing layers with varying density and porosity that allow gas exchange, water and nutrient transport, and support cell fitness and viability, the project partners will make the photosynthetic cell factory concept economically feasible by the continuous production of chemicals, resulting in lowered energy and water consumption.

Six European partners collaborate in a three-year research project

The three-year FuturoLEAF project was launched in autumn 2020. The research project is coordinated by VTT and consists of six partners in all. The other partners are Aalto University, University of Turku (UTU), CNRS, Cyano Biotech and TU Graz.

VTT leads the work on preparation of different grades of cellulose nanomaterials (CNF) and investigating the best cross-linking strategies for the CNFs, whilst Aalto leads the working on production and modification of different cellulose nanocrystal materials and studying their interaction with cells. UTU will lead the work on photosynthetic cell engineering and studies whereas TU Graz will lead the engineering of other microbial cell strains. UTU and TU Graz will study together the combinatorial system, where different types of micro-organisms work in tandem to produce chemicals efficiently.

CNRS leads the development of producing cell surface targeted molecularly imprinted polymers, which will be used for specific attachment and targeting of cells to matrix materials. CyanoBioTech will actively participate in showing the efficiency of the SSCF with their production system and products.

Spinverse supported the FuturoLEAF consortium to secure funding for their project proposal

Director Kaisu Leppänen and other experts from Spinverse supported the FuturoLEAF consortium in preparing their project proposal for the FET open call, which secured a total of 2.9 M€ in funding from the European Innovation Council. She explains: “The FET Open scheme aims at bringing together the brightest European minds at an early stage of research to pave the way for radical new thinking and novel technologies that challenge current thinking. The innovative FuturoLEAF concept draws inspiration from the green leaf structure and function and was a great fit to the aims of the funding call." Kaisu concludes: "It has been very exciting to be part of such an innovative project initiative.”

Tekla Tammelin, Research Professor at VTT says: “Our aim is to revolutionize the cell factory concept by introducing a solid-state system where the photosynthetic cells are producing targeted chemicals. In our system, the light-to-product efficiency will be greatly improved due to the leaf-inspired matrix formed using nanocellulose in which the cells are embedded in a controlled fashion.” She continues: "With the support from Spinverse, our ambitious targets will now be concretized. The special expertise from Spinverse in addressing all the critical details during the preparation phase earned us a winning proposal.”

According to Tekla Tammelin, the project partners of FuturoLEAF believe in the technology they have developed and that it will offer many applications for biotechnology companies in the future. In addition, their research has shown that Finnish industries using pulp could find brand new usage for lignopulp and find opportunities for new business. For example, the FuturoLEAF technology may offer new ways in the manufacturing of plastics to substitute plastics with more sustainable bioplastics.

More information about FuturoLEAF project: www.futuroleaf.com