Nature's own chemical plant

Nov 10, 2008

Petroleum is the feedstock for many products in the chemical industry. However, this fossil fuel is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. Renewable raw materials are an alternative. But can the likes of bioethanol be obtained from sources other than foods such as sugar cane or cereals?

The answer is yes. Thanks to white industrial biotechnology, chemical substances can also be derived from waste products generated by the food industry, leftover biomass from agriculture and forestry, and residual materials. Researchers of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart are demonstrating how this biotechnical recycling works, using colza, whey and crab shells as examples.

When producing biodiesel from colza oil, raw glycerol is accrued as a byproduct. Scientists at the IGB have now developed a method of converting this raw glycerol into 1,3-propandiol – a chemical base for producing polyesters or wood paint. Until now, 1,3-propandiol has always been chemically synthesized, but it can also be derived from glycerol by certain micro-organisms. Clostridium diolis bacteria, for example, can produce a comparatively high yield of chemical feedstock. However, these bacteria cannot convert raw glycerol. This is because raw glycerol contains fatty acids left over from the colza oil, and these have to be separated out.

"Furthermore, high concentrations of both the glycerol substrate and the 1,3-propandiol product inhibit the growth of the bacteria," says Dr. Wolfgang Krischke of the IGB, pointing out another challenge in developing this biotechnological process. "We have managed to solve this problem to a large extent by keeping the bioreactor in continuous operation, because once the glycerol has been almost fully converted, it loses its inhibiting effect. In this way, we have achieved a stable process with high product concentrations." The fatty acids can be converted by yeasts to long chain dicarboxylic acids providing novel building blocks for polymer industries.

One of the byproducts obtained from the manufacture of dairy products is acid whey, which until now has always been disposed of at considerable cost. However, the milk sugar (lactose) contained in the whey can be converted into lactic acid (lactate) with the help of lactic acid bacteria. Lactate not only serves as a preservative agent and acidifier in food production, but can also be used as a feedstock in the chemical industry – for example in the production of polylactides, which are biodegradable polymers. Such polylactic acids are already being used to make disposable crockery and screws for surgical operations.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: The fluorescent fingerprint of plastics

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists discover gold's hidden value

Jun 20, 2014

(Phys.org) —Scientists from Cardiff are discovering new and unexpected uses for gold – a noble metal traditionally regarded as being chemically uninteresting due to its poor ability to react with other ...

Trained bacteria convert bio-wastes into plastic

Nov 19, 2010

Dutch researcher Jean-Paul Meijnen has 'trained' bacteria to convert all the main sugars in vegetable, fruit and garden waste efficiently into high-quality environmentally friendly products such as bioplastics.

Biodiesel refinery hopes to finally begin soon

Dec 15, 2009

Starting up a new business is tough, but starting up in a new industry can be even tougher. That helps explain why the city's cutting-edge biodiesel refinery, one of a handful of its kind in the country, hasn't begun production ...

Extreme makeover chemistry style

Jun 16, 2009

In revisiting a chemical reaction that's been in the literature for several decades and adding a new wrinkle of their own, researchers with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have ...

Recommended for you

The fluorescent fingerprint of plastics

2 hours ago

LMU researchers have developed a new process which will greatly simplify the process of sorting plastics in recycling plants. The method enables automated identification of polymers, facilitating rapid separation ...

Water and sunlight the formula for sustainable fuel

6 hours ago

An Australian National University (ANU) team has successfully replicated one of the crucial steps in photosynthesis, opening the way for biological systems powered by sunlight which could manufacture hydrogen ...

Rice chemist wins 'Nobel Prize of Cyprus'

6 hours ago

Rice University organic chemist K.C. Nicolaou has earned three prestigious international honors, including the Nemitsas Prize, the highest honor a Cypriot scientist can receive and one of the most prestigious ...

Researchers create engineered energy absorbing material

8 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Materials like solid gels and porous foams are used for padding and cushioning, but each has its own advantages and limitations. Gels are effective as padding but are relatively heavy; gel performance ...

Solar fuels as generated by nature

8 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Society's energy supply problems could be solved in the future using a model adopted from nature. During photosynthesis, plants, algae and some species of bacteria produce sugars and other energy-rich ...

User comments : 0