Company initiatives, R&D, Video

Booming University green chems research

The blog has been seeing a lot of R&D news from various universities on how to improve green chemistry processing and these are definitely worthwhile checking out.

Here’s one from the University of Florida (UF) about their research in turning sugarcane bagasse into succinic acid using a newly engineered strain, called XW 136, which produced more than 30 grams per liter of succinate.

The researchers said this was the first time succinic acid production from sugarcane bagasse had been achieved without the use of expensive and cost-prohibitive steps to remove the inhibitors.

The research is part of a project led by Lonnie Ingram, a professor in the department and a member of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. His work seeks to turn discarded plant material, as well as sugars produced from crops such as sweet sorghum, into fuel and renewable products in a cost-effective and economically viable manner.

The ethanol production technology from Ingram’s research team, including the genetically engineered bacteria, is currently in use in fuel plants in Florida, Louisiana and Japan. Microorganisms the team has engineered to make bioplastics are being used in facilities in Louisiana and Spain.

Now, there seems to be a lot of research on using waste carbon dioxide to produce chemicals. But first researchers also have to think about economically capturing the waste CO2 from industrial plants such as coal-fired power plants or chemical manufacturing facilities. Researchers from the Rice University said they were able to develop innovative techniques to do such that using waste hear — low-grade steam that cannot be used to produce electricity.

Researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) and at Brown and Yale, meanwhile, have been doing different approaches in using carbon dioxide to produce chemicals such as acrylic acid.

In UGA, the researchers have genetically modified a microorganism called Pyrococcus furiosus that is now capable of feeding on carbohydrates at much lower temperatures on carbon dioxide. The researchers then used hydrogen gas to create a chemical reaction in the microorganism that incorporates carbon dioxide into 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a precursor in making acrylic acid.

When the fuel created through the P. furiosus process is burned, it releases the same amount of carbon dioxide used to create it, making it carbon neutral. The research was supported by the Department of Energy as part of the Electrofuels Program of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy under Grant DE-AR0000081.

For Brown and Yale, the researchers were looking to produce acrylic acid using a class of chemicals called Lewis acids when combining carbon dioxide and ethylene in the presence of nickel and other metal catalysts.

The ongoing research is part of a collaboration between Brown and Yale supported by the National Science Foundation’s Centers for Chemical Innovation program. The work is aimed at activating CO2 for use in making all kinds of commodity chemicals.

Here are some of my compiled University R&D news that might also be useful to companies out there on the lookout for new and exciting green chemistry technologies:

  • University of Delaware have teamed up with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Service program to turn farm refuse into useful biofuels, chemicals
  • MIT chemical engineers and biologists have devised a way to boost isobutanol production by 260%  with engineered yeast
  • Chemists at the University of California Davis with support from Japanese chemical firm Asahi Kasei Corp. have engineered cyanobacteria to convert carbon dioxide into 2,3 butanediol. The algae yielded 2.4 grams of 2,3 BDO per liter of growth medium.
  • Scientists at Denmark-based Aarhus University and Aalborg University are converting biomasses to crude bio-oil using a new generation of hydrothermal liquefaction process. The HTL process consumes 10-15% of the energy in the feedstock biomass yielding an energy efficiency of 85-90%.
  • Researchers at the UK-based University of Sheffield have produced a prototype snowboard from flax, cashew nut husks and recycled plastic, and are investigating the potential use of these biocomposites for electric vehicles and other applications.
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison chemical and biological engineers have streamlined the process for converting lignocellulosic biomass into chemicals such as levulinic acid and furfural. The new method eliminates the need for pretreatment steps that separate hemicellulose and cellulose.
  • Researchers at the University of Berkeley have discovered a catalytic process that can produce higher yields of acetone and butanol from an ABE fermentation process at lower energy use.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.


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