In recent decades, production of chemical compounds has been derived almost exclusively via chemical synthesis from fossil fuels. Due to fossil fuel depletion and environmental concerns, it has become necessary to develop new, environmentally friendly biotechnologies, including materials previously considered as waste e.g. CO2. A principal driving force for production of chemical products from CO2 and industrial off-gases has centred on replacing fossil fuels as the raw material. Production of chemicals from waste feedstock such as CO2 represents a major opportunity for industry to commercialise industrial biotechnologies in existing markets, at lower capital costs, and with potentially higher financial and environmental returns.
BIOCON-CO2 aims to develop new biochemical processes to produce chemicals at a low cost. The market price of commodity chemical products depends on two key factors: the cost of raw materials, and the cost of processing technologies. Increasing the financial return of bioprocesses for production of chemicals is a crucial factor for justifying the viability of investment to industry. BIOCON-CO2 therefore aims to develop four Microbial Cell Factories (MCFs) (C3-C6 branched alcohols; 3-HP; formic acid and lactic acid) based on low-energy biotechnological processes using CO2 from the iron and steel industry as a direct feedstock. These MCF technologies will be directly targeted for uptake within the chemicals and plastic industries.
Targeting industry with chemicals produced by BIOCON-CO2
Branched alcohols from C3-C6 alcohols for the chemical industry:
Branched alcohols are used to produce acrylates, phthalates, plasticisers and lubricants. Consumers in the chemical industry are demanding cheaper products that have a lower environmental footprint. BIOCON-CO2 will produce C3-C6 alcohols through fermentative processes using bacteria (Clostridia) that have a higher tolerance to gas composition and provide versatility to convert gases into these different alcohols, and to improve the purity of C3-C6 branched alcohols than currently exists in the market. The process is expected to be less energy and material intensive than current industry practices.
Polyhydroxyalconate (P3HP) and acrylic from 3-HP as building block for plastic/chemical industry acid:
3-HP is a carbon-3 platform used as a precursor for the synthesis of different polymers for the plastic and chemical industry. In BIOCON-CO2, 3-HP obtained by fermentative processes will be validated by one of BIOCON-CO2’s partners (ARKEMA) to produce P3HP, acrylic acid and derivatives. Potential users of the fermentative process which produce 3-HP are manufacturers of acryl monomer units, polymer and plastics manufacturers. ARKEMA is also among the largest global manufacturers of acrylic acid.
For monomer, polymer and plastics manufacturers the ability to reduce their carbon tax burden through CO2 valorisation and the generation of carbon tax credits will give them a competitive advantage over suppliers that do not valorise CO2. Additionally, a wide variety of monomers, polymers and plastics can be generated from the 3-HP platform each with its own established market value, further highlighting the potential of these for targeting industry. Finally, the cost and supply of crude oil, natural gas and fracking gas all vary. The use of CO2 as the base source of carbon in a manufacturing process will not only guarantee the security of raw material supplies but also provides control for manufacturers over costs.
Lactic Acid and Formic Acid for Feed and Plastic Industry (PLA)
The lactic acid market is segmented into biopolymers, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals and others. Lactic acid is used in the production of polylactic acid plastics and this application is projected to expand the growth of the lactic acid market also. The lactic acid market is estimated to dominate the chemical industry between 2015 – 2020. Polylactic acid is one of the most promising applications of lactic acid. Polylactic acid is applied in the biomedical, automotive, and electronics sectors amongst others. The number of materials, applications and products derived from polylactic acid, and the number of manufacturers, converters and end-users of the chemical are steadily increasing. The movement towards bioplastics is further boosted by legal frameworks that provide incentives for the use of bioplastics in several countries. In BIOCON-CO2, lactic acid will be produced by an innovative and sustainable multienzymatic system, with an expected 250-fold increase of lactic acid production in comparison to conventional methods.
In Europe, formic acid production is a major industry due to its significance in animal feed, leather and the textile dyeing industry. In BIOCON-CO2, formic acid will be obtained by improving the biocatalytic yield of formate dehydrogenase enzymes. BIOCON-CO2 aims to increase the productivity of formic acid by 33-fold compared with traditional formic acid production.