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Highlight Seminar Series: Kartik Chandran, Columbia University

Date: February 16, 2015

Time: 4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Location: Computer Science, Room 104

Kartik Chandran Slide Presentation

Professor Kartik Chandran, of Columbia University, presents “Production of Bio-based Fuels and Chemicals Using Novel Process Platforms” as part of the 2014-2015 Highlight Seminar Series.

Kartik Chandran PhotoABSTRACT
There are intense efforts globally to develop biobased fuels, chemicals, and energy sources.  However, biofuels and bio-based chemicals have come under particular scrutiny owing to the significant resource stress they could potentially exert. Accordingly, alternate substrates and approaches for improving the longer term sustainability of bio-based pipelines need to be explored.  Herein, a flexible platform technology that can be used to convert a variety of organic streams to biodiesel and biomethanol is described.

First, the use of volatile fatty acids (VFA), for lipid production (and subsequent conversion to biodiesel) by oleaginous (oil-producing or accumulating) microorganisms is presented. Oleaginous microorganisms can biologically convert a wide array of carbon sources into lipids and can accumulate lipids in excess of 65% of their dry cell mass.  VFA are especially attractive, since they can be produced by anaerobic fermentation of different nonedible feed stocks including organic wastes. Traditionally, anaerobic treatment of organic waste has been focused on biogas production through methanogenesis. Herein, we report the re-direction of VFA to lipids by the oleaginous yeast Cryptococcus albidus, for downstream use in biodiesel production.

Second, while the production of biogas from different organic streams is rather widespread, the produced biogas is often not pure enough to be directly used for chemical conversion to higher value compounds, such as methanol.  In addition to being used in gasoline blends, methanol can be used in fuel cells, combined with long-chain fatty acids and lipids to form biodiesel, or chemically dimerized to dimethyl ether (DME, also a fuel). Methanol is commonly produced from natural gas, by chemical catalysis, which is quite economically and energy intensive and redundant.  We present a novel alternate for converting biogas mixtures to biomethanol using ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), which can oxidize CH4 to CH3OH via the nonspecific action of the enzyme ammonia monooxygenase (AMO).

The principal advantage of these processes is that they disrupt the traditional pathways and pipelines for the production of bio-based fuels and chemicals, which rely upon agricultural crops and resources including fossil carbon and clean water.  Rather, these novel platforms are based on conversion of substrate streams traditionally considered ‘waste’ and thereby contribute both to distributed energy production as well as a cleaner environment.

Dr. Kartik Chandran is Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Columbia University Biomolecular Environmental Sciences Program and the Wastewater Treatment and Climate Change Program at Columbia University, New York, NY.  The main focus of Professor Chandran’s work is on sustainable sanitation, resource recovery, re-engineering the microbial nitrogen cycle and links to the global water, energy, food and carbon cycles.  Within this framework also lies the stimulating prospect for rendering water quality as the bonus.

Select honors received by Dr. Chandran include invited participation in the National Academy Engineering 2015 China-America Frontiers of Engineering, a guest professorship from Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2014, selection as WEF Fellow, 2013, the Paul Busch Award, 2010, National Science Foundation CAREER award 2009 , Invited professorship at the Kluyver Labs, Delft University of Technology, 2008, Summer Faculty Fellow, National Academy of Science, 2007 (hosted by the National Risk Management Research Labs, Environmental Protection Agency, Cincinnati).

More details on Dr. Chandran’s work can be found at