GlycosBio develops new microbial platform

By Erin Voegele | August 27, 2010
Posted Sept. 22, 2010

Texas-based Glycos Biotechnologies Inc. recently announced it has created a microbial technology platform that can convert fatty acids into ethanol, advanced biofuels and biochemcials. The new platform is similar to GlycosBio's glycerin conversion technology, but targets a different, low-value feedstock.

"What we do is use metabolic engineering to design microorganisms that produce specific chemicals," said Paul Campbell, GlycosBio's chief science officer. "We do use E. coli, the traditional workhorse bacterial for most biotechnology, but we also use other microbial strains-ones that have a very strong history of use in industrial-scale fermentation."

One significant benefit of GlycosBio's new technology platform is that it produces high product yields. In the ethanol production process, one pound of sugar only creates about a half pound of fuel. "In the case of fatty acids, we've already demonstrated the one-to-one conversion, which would be the equivalent of taking one pound of fatty acid and making one pound of ethanol. Additional benefits of the technology include the ability to produce complex molecules, and the process does not require a highly purified feedstock, Campbell said.

While the platform is capable of producing renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biobutanol, Campbell said the long-term goal of his company is to produce biobased chemicals, including acetate, acetone, isopropanol, succinate and propionate from fatty acids.

To date, the new microbial platform has been tested at the lab scale. According to Campbell, GlycosBio's intends to scale up to pilot production within the next few months. The pilot-scale demonstration will take place at the company's facility in Houston. Although a wide range of products can be manufactured using the new platform, GlycosBio is still in the process of determining which chemical should be brought to market fist.

Research on the new platform was completed in collaboration with Rice University Professor Ramon Gonzalez and his team. According to Campbell, Gonzalez and his team also developed GlycosBio's initial glycerin conversion technology. Results of the latest component of the research were published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a research journal published by the American Society for Microbiology.

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