A genetically engineered bacteria pathway, directed to selectively generate butanol over competing by-products.



The Need

Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) Fermentation is one of two commonly used mechanisms to produce butanol from biomass feedstocks. Various active enzymes or acids are exposed to a biomass feedstock and subsequently produce a number of products but chiefly acetone, butanol and ethanol. Previous attempts in the industry to use Clostridium strains to ferment butanol were plagued by cost issues, relatively low-yields, sluggish fermentations, problems caused by end product inhibition, and phage infections. Re-engineering this bacteria to preferentially produce butanol over other undesired products, biomass to product conversion efficiency would be greatly improved.

The Market

  • 85% butanol/gasoline blends can be used in unmodified gas engines. Butanol can also be transported in existing gasoline pipelines (biofuelstp.eu).
  • Biobutanol contains 20% more energy by density than ethanol (biobutanol.com).
  • The EPA released data indicating that hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides can be significantly reduced by using biobutanol additives in fuel.
  • n-Butanol is an important industrial chemical and solvent with worldwide production around 1 Billion gallons annually.
  • Because of its rapid decomposition and degradation, bioaccumulation or bioconcentration of butanol is unlikely, limiting the possibility of contamination and pollution. Also, butanol has a low order of toxicity to environmental organisms on all levels of the food chain (dow.com).
  • The global biofuels market is expected to double over the next decade, from $82.7 billion to $185.3 billion (cleantechnica.com).

The Technology

The Ohio State University researchers, led by Dr. Shang-Tian Yang, have developed novel strains of Clostridium that can produce significantly more n-butanol than their parent strains when exposed to biomass. These strains can be used for industrial biobutanol production to enable a more economical conversion of biomass feedstocks. The Clostridium strains are significantly more robust than previous conceptions and less sensitive to environmental factors. This durability enables the bacteria to digest higher quantities of biomass before dieing, resulting in greater butanol generation compared to other mutant Clostridium strains.




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