Integrating the Production of Biofuels and Bioproducts through Advanced Biotechnology

Integrating the Production of Biofuels and Bioproducts through Advanced Biotechnology

The development of bio-based products (chemicals and materials) has quickly become one of the fastest-growing segments of the biotech industry and represents a significant opportunity to advance the emerging bioeconomy. Bioproducts can be made in a single-product process; however, the co-production of bioproducts alongside biofuels offers a more efficient, cost-effective, and integrated approach to the utilization of our nation’s biomass resources. Within the context of biofuel production, the biorefinery provides substantial opportunities to capitalize on the development of bio-based chemicals and polymers that are identical drop-in replacements for petrochemicals. Revenue generated from the sale of co-products also provides added value, improving the overall economics of biorefinery operations and enabling the production of fuels that are cost-competitive. Advances in biotechnology are driving the development of these integrated conversion pathways that enable the co-production of chemicals alongside renewable hydrocarbon fuels.

Tphoto_jonathan_malehe U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is focusing on strategies that capitalize on revenue from bioproducts to improve the economic feasibility of advanced biofuel production. BETO is specifically targeting co-products that match biofuel-production pathways (i.e., derived from biomass-deconstruction products like cellulosic sugars) or make use of conversion waste streams (e.g., lignin). Over the past year, the Office has funded several successful projects that have developed innovative biological approaches to the production of chemicals and materials from biomass resources.

For example, industrial biotechnology company Lygos Inc.announced in early 2015 that it had successfully achieved pre-pilot-scale production of malonic acid—a high-value chemical used in pharmaceuticals, flavors, fragrances, and electronic- and metal-manufacturing processes—from non-food, pure sugar as model for lignocellulosic sugar. The pre-pilot-scale manufacturing was completed at the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in a program funded in part by BETO. Since then, BETO has competitively awarded additional funding to Lygos through the Small Business Vouchers Pilot,an initiative that aims to help small businesses bring next-generation clean energy technologies to market faster by providing access to expertise and specialized equipment at DOE’s national laboratories. Through this platform, Lygos will continue to work with DOE National Labs to reach pilot scale and test their patented fermentation technology on lignocellulosic sugars, in order to validate biomass-based feedstocks for their product.

Through advanced strain engineering, renewable chemical company Genomatica improved the microbial conversion of lignocellulosic sugars to 1,4-butanediol (BDO), a chemical used in products such as hard plastics, INVISTA’s Lycra® spandex, and high-performance fabrics. This BETO-funded project advanced the technological readiness for the production of BDO from non-food biomass and illustrates the potential of capitalizing on value-added chemicals within the biorefinery. Moving forward, BETO will continue to explore viable technology pathways for co-products—several of which are already under development. In 2015, DOE awarded funds to several companies and universities located in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Colorado, and Georgia, to develop integrated processes for the production of advanced biofuels and chemicals.

The continued integration of bio-based chemicals and materials along the biofuel-production pathway will lead to new feedstock demands, technology development, and economic opportunities. Innovation in the field of biotechnology will continue to offer solutions to processing challenges and drive the development of new biomass-based products. These products can, in turn, enable the cost-effective production of advanced biofuels, improve energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to U.S. job growth.

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