Prof. dr. ir. Korneel Rabaey

Email: 
Korneel.Rabaey@UGent.be
Telephone number: 
+32 9/264 59 76
Position: 
Faculty staff
Biography: 

Education

  • PhD in Applied Biological Sciences, Ghent University 2005
  • Bio-Engineer spec. Environmental Technology, Ghent University 2001

Professional & Research Activities

Dr. Korneel Rabaey is head of the Department of Biochemical and Microbial Technology at Ghent University since September 2011. He is also honorary professor at The University of Queensland. Before that, he was senior lecturer and incoming director/founder of the Centre for Microbial Electrosynthesis at The University of Queensland. He is internationally recognized for his work in the field of resource recovery, particularly through electrochemical and bioelectrochemical systems. In 2014 he was taken up in the list of ISI Highly Cited Researchers. He is member of the Young Academy and president of the International Society for Microbial Electrochemistry and Technology

Principles behind our research

  1. The advent of activated sludge in the early 20th century undoubtedly saved millions of lives. Whereas it is A solution, it is clear that we rely on recovery of the water, carbon, energy and nutrients to achieve a circular society. 
  2. We need to move away from the waste stamp and consider fully our resources in an opportunistic way: 
    • Salts in wastewater are not to be put at high energy cost in a brine for discharge. We need to convert them to useful salts such as NaOH, phosphoric acid, NaHS and whatever we know the market asks for 
    • Organic side streams should become a basis for the production of chemicals in demand. Examples are the production of caproic acid as antibiotics replacement and the production of esters from short chain fatty acids. 
    • CO2 coming from industrial sites should be considered as a major opportunity for large scale production of organic chemicals. A western European society has, beyond agriculture at its summum, not much more than CO2 and light to make a living
  3. Interdisciplinary thinking is essential to progress technology
  4. All focus has been on the water – energy nexus whereas the chemistry – water nexus is probably far more problematic

Key areas

In the broad sense, the activities of the Microbial ElectroCatalysis Team (MECaT) can be subdivided in four key areas:

  1. Resource recovery /organics: producing and extracting organics and fuels such as methane and carboxylic acids from biorefinery sidestreams, biomass and wastewater
  2. Resource recovery /inorganics: harvesting and/or converting inorganic pollutants from industrial waste streams, urine and others to form added value products such as useful salts, caustic, ammonia derivatives such as amines and proteins
  3. Carbon capture and utilization: using microorganisms to convert CO2 to multicarbon compounds
  4. Fundaments of electron transfer: understanding how electrodes interact with microorganisms, developing novel tools to achieve this

Projects by funding

  1. ERC Starter Grant Electrotalk, www.electrotalk.org
    • Staff: Jan Arends, Hugo Roume, Antonin Prevoteau
    • Scope: Understanding the microorganism – electrode interface
  2. FWO – MOST “The domestic biorefinery” (with Tsinghua U)
    • Staff: Cristina Cagnetta
    • Scope: harvesting organics from domestic wastewater to form biogas or carboxylates
  3. FWO – “Topography” (with KULeuven, Cambridge UK)
    • Staff: Melanie Pierra, Mehdi Golozar (KULeuven / Cambridge)
    • Scope: modifying carbon electrode topography to study adherence
  4. ESA/Belspo – MELiSSA program, Fibre Degradation Unit
    • Staff: Marlies Christiaens, Amanda Luther, Peter Clauwaert
  5. UGent – Doctor assistant position
    • Staff: Eleni Vaiopoulou
    • Scope: Sulfur conversions and recovery
  6. UGent – BOF project with University college HoWest
    • Staff: Way Cern Khor
    • Scope: converting grass to lactic acid
  7. UGent – MRP Ghent Bio-Economy
    • Staff: Stephen Andersen, Marta Coma Bech
    • Scope: producing carboxylates from biomass

Projects via personal mandate

  • FWO Postdoctoral Fellowship Kun Guo, biological cracking
  • FWO PhD fellowship Kristof Verbeeck: Biogas upgrading, microbial electrosynthesis
  • Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship Sunil Patil
  • BOF PhD fellowship for Sylvia Gildemyn: Microbial electrosynthesis
  • BOF PhD fellowship for Pieter Candry: Electrofermentation
  • Ecuador PhD fellowship for Nayaret Acosta: Anaerobic digestion of cocoa, biogas upgrading
  • BOF postdoctoral fellowship for Ramon Ganigue Gonzales: Fermentations, including syngas
  • BOF Postdoctoral fellowship for Jo Philips: Biofilm formation by Clostridium ljundahlii
  • CSC PhD scholarship Xu Zhang: Microbial behaviour in non-uniform electric fields
Selected key publications: 
Rabaey, K., N. Boon, S. D. Siciliano, M. Verhaege, and W. Verstraete (2004) Biofuel cells select for microbial consortia that self-mediate electron transfer. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 70:5373-5382. (SCI 3.810; 16/133)
Rabaey, K., N. Boon, M. Höfte, and W. Verstraete. 2005. Microbial phenazine production enhances electron transfer in biofuel cells. Environmental Science and Technology 39: 3401-3408. (SCI 4.054; 1/37)
Rabaey, K., and W. Verstraete. 2005. Microbial fuel cells: novel biotechnology for energy generation. Trends in Biotechnology 23: 291-298 (SCI 7.955; 5/139)
Logan, B., P. Aelterman, B. Hamelers, R. Rozendal, U. Schroder, J. Keller, S. Freguia, W. Verstraete, and K. Rabaey. 2006. Microbial fuel cells: methodology and technology. Environmental Science & Technology 40:5181-5192. (SCI 4.040; 1/35)
Dutta, P. K., K. Rabaey, Z. G. Yuan, and J. Keller. 2008. Spontaneous electrochemical removal of aqueous sulfide. Water Research 42:4965-4975. (SCI 4.355; 1/45)
Rabaey, K., Bützer, S., Brown, S., Keller, J. & Rozendal, R.A. 2010. High current generation coupled to caustic production using a lamellar bioelectrochemical system. Environ. Sci. Technol. 44:4315-4321. (SCI 4.827; 2/45)
Desloover, J., A. Abate Woldeyohannis, W. Verstraete, N. Boon, and K. Rabaey. 2012. Electrochemical Resource Recovery from Digestate to Prevent Ammonia Toxicity during Anaerobic Digestion. Environmental Science & Technology 46:12209-12216. (SCI 4.827; 2/45)
Rabaey, K. and Rozendal, R.A. 2010. Microbial electrosynthesis: revisiting the electrical route for bioproduction. Nature Rev. Microbiol. 8: 706-716. (SCI 20.686;1/107)
Logan, B. E., and K. Rabaey. 2012. Conversion of wastes into bioelectricity and chemicals using microbial electrochemical technologies. Science 337(6095):686-690 (SCI 31.377; 2/59)
Xu J., Guzman J. J. L., Andersen S. J., Rabaey K. and Angenent L. T. (2015). In-line and selective phase separation of medium-chain carboxylic acids using membrane electrolysis. Chemical Communications. Vol. 51, No. 31, pp. 6847-6850.