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uni'wissen 01-2015

Sabine Sané studied biology in Freiburg. For her diplom thesis in 2007, she cooperated with the German Primate Center (DPZ) in Göttingen. The thesis dealt with group coordination in baboons in South Africa. She then worked for the DPZ in Senegal, among other places, and at the Max Planck Insti- tute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg. In January 2010 she began research for her doctoral dissertation in the “Bioelectro- chemical Systems” research group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of the University of Freiburg. Her research inter- ests include new concepts for extending the life of enzy- matic biofuel cells. Photo: Johannes Erben Further Reading Sané, S. / Jolivalt, C. / Mittler, G. / Nielsen, P. / Rubenwolf, S. / Zengerle, R. / Kerzenmacher, S. (2013): Overcoming bottlenecks of enzymatic biofuel cell cathodes: crude fungal culture supernatant can help to extend lifetime and reduce cost. In: ChemSusChem 6/7, pp. 1209–1215. Kipf, E. / Zengerle, R. / Gescher, J. / Kerzenmacher, S. (2014): How does the choice of anode material influence electrical performance? A comparison of two microbial fuel cell model organisms. In: ChemElectroChem 1/11, pp. 1849–1853. Margot, J. / Maillard, J. / Rossi, L. / Barry, D. A. / Hollige, C. (2013): Influence of treatment conditions on the oxidation of micropollutants by Trametes versicolor laccase. In: New Biotechnology 30/6, pp. 803–813. In the course of her work, Sané came to the conclusion that it is unnecessary to go through the difficult process of isolating the enzymes before they are passed on to the cathode. It is enough to cultivate the fungus on a liquid culture medium – like waste water. The fungus forms a layer over the water, similar to mold on fruit juice, and supplies the liquid continually with new laccase and further enzymes. The enriched liquid can then be passed on directly to the cathode. Biofuel Cell and Waste Water Treatment Plant “At one point it struck me that this was an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone,” says Sané: Why shouldn’t it be possible to use the enzymes the fungus was producing anyway to break down micropollutants? The reason why she was immediately fascinated by this thought, Sané suspects, is perhaps because its scientific roots do not lie in one of the technical fields but in biology, or more precisely ecology. Together with her research group leader, she came up with the idea of combining the biofuel cell and the degradation of micropollutants in waste water as a follow-up project after completing her dissertation. Sané plans to complete her dissertation in spring 2015. She already has the results. At the moment she is applying for exter- nal funding for the project – and hoping that the prize she won for the idea will be helpful in this endeavor. “The first thing to do will be to conduct funda- mental research in the lab,” says Sané, for example to determine the best place and time in the various processes involved in a combined waste water treatment and biofuel cell plant to cultivate the fungus, the precise enzyme mix it gives off, and the effects this mix produces. “We haven’t yet put the components together.” Another important question to answer is what happens when the enzymes of the tree fungus break down micro- pollutants: Are the resulting degradation products indeed less hazardous? And can bacteria perhaps simply break down the substances created in this process further? Sabine Sané hopes that at some point her idea really will be implemented in technically polished and energy-efficient waste water treatment plants. She is open to cooperation with industrial partners – even though there is quite a lot to do before that point is reached: “A project partner will of course need to see a lot more data than is currently available to decide whether such an idea can indeed be put into practice.” Waste water plants need a lot of energy, and conventional methods for removing micropollutants from waste water are expensive, not very environmentally friendly, and not fully developed. Photo: Thomas Leiss/Fotolia 31