Researchers improve process to create renewable chemicals from plants (w/ Video)

Apr 04, 2013 by Robert H. Wells

(Phys.org) —Crops aren't just for food, fiber and fuel. Researchers at the University of Florida are making new industrial applications possible for them as well.

They've developed a method to turn sugarcane bagasse—the crushed-stalk waste product of —into succinic acid that can be used to make pharmaceuticals, and compostable bags.

The process uses no or petroleum as raw materials. In contrast, most currently produced succinic acid is petroleum derived. The research is detailed in a study in the March 5 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"I believe renewable chemicals will be at least a part of the future of our chemical industry, if we want to decrease the demand for petroleum," said Xuan Wang, the study's lead author and an assistant scientist in UF's microbiology and department.

Renewable chemicals are created from materials that can be replenished, whereas nonrenewable chemicals are produced from limited resources, such as petroleum.

The research is part of a larger project led by Lonnie Ingram, a distinguished 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 , into fuel and renewable products in a cost-effective and economically viable manner.

Key to the research are E. coli bacteria that Ingram and his team have genetically engineered to produce specific products by fermenting sugar. The team's previous accomplishments include E. coli strains that can produce fuel ethanol and ones that make lactic acid, which is used to create biodegradable and recyclable bioplastics.

To achieve cost-effective succinic acid production using waste plant materials, however, the researchers had to make an E. coli strain tolerant to growth-stopping inhibitors. The newly engineered strain, called XW 136, produced more than 30 grams per liter of succinate using sugars derived from sugarcane bagasse.

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, Wang said.

"The inhibitors produced from waste plant materials are barriers for the industrial chemical production using renewable sources," Wang said. "Now our work provides a direction for effectively improving inhibitor tolerance."

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 are being used in facilities in Louisiana and Spain.

Explore further: Pterostilbene, a molecule similar to resveratrol, as a potential treatment for obesity

Related Stories

Baked goods could become bioplastics

Sep 17, 2012

That day-old Starbucks croissant may not need to go into the garbage after all. A new technique developed by Carol S. K. Lin, a biochemical engineer at the City University of Hong Kong, could turn uneaten pastries and coffee ...

Recommended for you

Why plants don't get sunburn

Oct 29, 2014

Plants rely on sunlight to make their food, but they also need protection from its harmful rays, just like humans do. Recently, scientists discovered a group of molecules in plants that shields them from ...

Viral switches share a shape

Oct 27, 2014

A hinge in the RNA genome of the virus that causes hepatitis C works like a switch that can be flipped to prevent it from replicating in infected cells. Scientists have discovered that this shape is shared by several other ...

'Sticky' ends start synthetic collagen growth

Oct 27, 2014

Rice University researchers have delivered a scientific one-two punch with a pair of papers that detail how synthetic collagen fibers self-assemble via their sticky ends.

Cell membranes self-assemble

Oct 27, 2014

A self-driven reaction can assemble phospholipid membranes like those that enclose cells, a team of chemists at the University of California, San Diego, reports in Angewandte Chemie.

Emergent behavior lets bubbles 'sense' environment

Oct 27, 2014

Tiny, soapy bubbles can reorganize their membranes to let material flow in and out in response to the surrounding environment, according to new work carried out in an international collaboration by biomedical ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.