Novel biomanufacturing process will capture carbon and bolster human health

February 12, 2024

Precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) is used in many applications such as construction materials, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, plastics, paper, and food. It’s used in vitamins to bolster bone health and in toothpaste as a polishing agent. Unfortunately, the mining and manufacturing process of this inexpensive and versatile product is also a contributor to carbon dioxide emissions that plague Earth’s atmosphere.

In an effort to reduce environmental impacts and bolster human health, a multi-institutional research group led by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has been awarded $650K by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator to develop and prototype a new biomanufacturing process for making PCC and plant-based compounds that support human health. UMCES Professor, Elizabeth North, is the primary investigator (PI) on the project.

"This research will impact society at a national and global scale by developing and testing a new biomanufacturing process for making nutraceuticals — plant-based compounds that support human health — and a climate-friendly PCC product that traps carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," said North. "We plan to use microscopic plants (microalgae) to transform waste streams of drinking water desalination plants into cleaner, economically valuable products. Our ultimate goals are to transform waste streams into product streams, capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and support public health."

Commercial industries that rely on PCC could also benefit from this method. This project aims to provide a more carbon efficient process for producing PCC as well as lower-carbon-footprint products for PCC industries and consumers. Additionally, using the climate-friendly PCC in concrete for marine habitat restoration could shift these activities toward carbon neutrality and provide new materials to help counteract ecosystem degradation.

The research team is led by UMCES Professor Elizabeth North with co-Principal Investigator Ryan Hoover from the Maryland Institute College of Art as well as collaborators from Purdue University, Salisbury University and Facilitated Solutions, LLC. This project is funded by the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. Launched in 2019, the NSF Convergence Accelerator builds upon NSF's investment in basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal and economic impact.