Natural Polymers Who Can Talk to Microbes: Can This Conversation Make Us Carbon Neutral ?


“Polymer chemistry” can create some of the beauties of civilization, but also can tackle the serious downsides of non-closed global element cycles. In a fictive world of circularity and sustainability, it will become difficult for the current “fossil” business schemes, and biomass as a source of monomers and polymers is an obvious alternative. However, biomass usually comes with water and chemical functionality, making our current catalytic toolbox rather poor. Hydrothermal reforming (HTR) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are chemical processes to turn carbohydrates (including crude forestry side products, but waste biomass in general) into diverse products. All these processes occur also naturally, the products mostly well known, but engineering can be highly accelerated within “noble steel”. I will introduce these now classical processes, but focus on “hydrothermal humification”, where the polymer product turned out to be extremely useful for agriculture and soil remediation. Contrary to our primary expectations, these polymers do not only act by their physical chemistry, but opened a previously not accessible biological “universe”. Two billion hectares of arable land are actually affected by moderate to severe soil degradation and actually need two billion tons of humic substances, which in return then probably sequester up to 350 billion tons of CO2 through living matter system engineering of soil microbiology. That is no less than the equivalent to the amount emitted by humanity in the last ten years. If time allows, I will dare a discourse on creativity and scholastic restrictions. The question is why it is so difficult to see the sometimes most nearby solutions and how education also outside the core disciplines is expanding our analytical capabilities.

2nd International Conference on Advanced Materials for Bio-Related Applications
Markus Antonietti
Markus Antonietti
Scientific Committee Member