Abiotic sugar synthesis from CO2 electrolysis



CO2 valorization is aimed at converting waste CO2 to value-added products. While steady progress has been achieved through diverse catalytic strategies, including CO2 electrosynthesis, CO2 thermocatalysis, and biological CO2 fixation, each of these approaches have distinct limitations. Inorganic catalysts only enable synthesis beyond C2 and C3 products with poor selectivity and with a high energy requirement. Meanwhile, although biological organisms can selectively produce complex products from CO2, their slow autotrophic metabolism limits their industrial feasibility. Here, we present an abiotic approach leveraging electrochemical and thermochemical catalysis to complete the conversion of CO2 to life-sustaining carbohydrate sugars akin to photosynthesis. CO2 was electrochemically converted to glycolaldehyde and formaldehyde using copper nanoparticles and boron-doped diamond cathodes, respectively. CO2-derived glycolaldehyde then served as the key autocatalyst for the formose reaction, where glycolaldehyde and formaldehyde combined in the presence of an alkaline earth metal catalyst to form a variety of C4 - C8 sugars, including glucose. In turn, these sugars were used as a feedstock for fast-growing and genetically modifiable Escherichia coli. Altogether, we have assembled a platform that pushes the boundaries of product complexity achievable from CO2 conversion while demonstrating CO2 integration into life-sustaining sugars.


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Supplementary material

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Supplementary Information - Abiotic sugar synthesis from CO2 electrolysis
Supplementary Information for "Abiotic sugar synthesis from CO2 electrolysis." Contents: Discussion S1, Figures S1-17, Tables S1-2.