Greentech start-up ready to rule the carbon recycling jungle

Wednesday 07 Oct 20


Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen
DTU Biosustain
+45 40 57 39 47
The DTU Biosustain spin-out SecondCircle gets ready to take their green biotech solutions for carbon recycling to market. The secret behind their technology is ‘hot’ microbes that turn CO2 from exhaust gases into valuable products.

Catching carbon dioxide (CO2) and fixing it into biomass is about the oldest trick in the book; this happens all the time as trees and plants grown. But applying bacteria to do this with high efficiency using the CO2 coming from the exhaust gas of industrial smokestacks is one of the newest tricks in the biotech book.


This is exactly what SecondCircle can do with their technologies, explains SecondCircle’s CEO Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen:


“We can take carbon dioxide out of industrial off-gases and turn it into valuable products for the customer. This can be either bio-chemicals, fertilizer, animal feed, or food-protein. The flexibility in our production allows us to produce the product with greatest impact financially and environmentally at a given site for the customer.”


Reducing costs

At this point, the company does not aim at converting 100% of CO2 in the waste gases. Catching the last percentages of CO2 will become too expensive. But given that power plants as well as the iron- and cement industries emit millions of tons of CO2 pr. year, catching just 20-50 percent “is still a significant reduction with huge environmental impact,” as he puts it.


With the microorganisms being able to work at 60 °C, the customer gets a reduced risk of contamination, which is often a problem with fermentations taking place at around 37 °C, Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen explains. Consequently, the costs associated with preventing contamination are reduced or eliminated. Furthermore, the bacteria can be engineered to produce different products and to survive harsh conditions like low pH. This makes them ideal as industrial workhorses.


One of the products that SecondCircle’s bacterial strain is already exceptionally good at making is the chemical acetate. This chemical is used in detergents or as chemical building block for other bio-chemicals.


Grant to accelerate development
"Waste gases can actually become a profit to companies instead of a burden"
Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen, Specialist at DTU Biosustain and CEO of SecondCircle

In March 2020, the company made it through the selection process to the BioInnovation Institute’s Business Acceleration Academy to develop their technical solution into a commercial, green product. Now, they have received an Innofounder grant of approximately DKK 950,000 from Innovation Fund Denmark to accelerate the development of their business idea and get ready to go to market.


For now, SecondCircle’s primary focus is to raise money and to find the right industrial partners.


“We hope to grow, but this requires more hands to do the technological development work and to set up a pilot plant. So, I hope that in two years we are 10-15 employees and are running pilot projects with some big industrial customers,” he says.


Big competition can be a win-win

With carbon-recycling gaining more attention, other start-ups also focus on recycling of waste carbon gasses; either using biology or chemistry or both. End-products are often biofuels, feed or bulk chemicals. Despite the competition, Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen is convinced that the increased focus on carbon recycling is a good thing:


“We know that we need to be one step ahead of companies with related technologies, that’s clear. However, the future market for CO2 capture and conversion is very big and diverse and will include many players. The present task to communicate to customers, industry, and politicians making them aware of the technology of tomorrow, will benefit from more voices. Hopefully, companies with large CO2-emissions would like to become greener, or even carbon neutral, because the consumers demand it.”


The market’s will to invest depends greatly on legislation. Recently, the Danish government decided to implement CO2 taxes. This could push industries with extraordinary carbon emissions to reuse their greenhouse gasses for valuable products, thus, lowering their taxes. Hence, SecondCircle’s technologies not only tap into the green agenda; they also contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #12 about ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.


“Waste gases can actually become a profit to companies instead of a burden,” Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen says.


About SecondCircle

The SecondCircle team consists of the three Co-Founders from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability (DTU Biosustain) at Technical University of Denmark (DTU):

  • CEO and Co-Founder Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen is also a researcher at DTU and did his PhD in the start-up company BioGasol
  • CTO and Co-Founder Stephanie Redl is a Postdoctoral Researcher and has also co-founded
  • Co-Founder Alex Toftgaard Nielsen is Professor at DTU Biosustain and also Co-Founder of the companies Cysbio and Mycropt

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