Advanced Bioeconomy Horizons: The 5 Top R&D Trends Right Now
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) Catalytic reaction rates, microcrystalline cellulose, cyanobacteria working in teams, vertical farming, vegan products & markets. The 5 top disruptive techs we’ve seen in recent weeks are attacking these fronts.
Here’s what we see.
1. Breakthrough on (microcrystalline) cellulose costs
The current industry standard for cellulose production is based on pulp and paper technology, where the main revenue stream is limited to the cellulose fraction only. The C5 sugars and the lignin are degraded to the point where they are typically burned for their low thermal value, but, you know this stuff. Sweetwater’s process utilizes all of the feedstock to yield a complete value suite, consisting of:
· a microcrystalline cellulose that can instantly address many large and existing markets with the future potential to use a low energy enzymatic pathway to very high value nanocellulose,
· a high quality C5 rich sugar stream that can be converted into ethanol or other high value biochemicals,
· a unique non-sulfonated lignin that can be used as a functional filler for many petroleum-based products or converted into a very high value fractionated lignin via MetGen process.
Due to the nature of the Sunburst pretreatment system, the word is that Sweetwater can maintain the value of all components of the biomass while recovering the cellulose in a more energy efficient fashion. Existing technologies use very large pressure vessels to ‘cook’ the biomass at high pressures and temperatures in order to remove the hemicellulose and lignin.
Due to the high degree of hemicellulose extraction in the Sunburst system and the small and uniform particle size of the remaining cellulose and lignin, all that has to be done in the Sweetwater cellulose recovery process is a quick and simple pH elevation at atmospheric pressures to solubilize the lignin (60 minutes).
2. Renewable Jet Fuel 2.0 – new catalysts transform reaction rates, hydrocarbon yields
Now, Saha’s (Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation Associate Director Basudeb Saha) team has developed a new generation of catalysts they call “chemical goats” made from inexpensive materials such as graphene. One, operates at low temperatures (around 60°C) with high selectivity, and speeds the reaction rates. Another removes oxygen and produces up top 99 percent branched hydrocarbon yields. Both catalysts can be revered and the process can be scaled, according to the research team.
3. Pairing cyanobacteria to produce bioplastics from sunlight, water and CO2, or, I’m not chubby Ma, I’m making bioplastics.
But new research suggests that pairing two cyanobacteria creates even more compelling results.
It works this way. An engineered form of Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942, equipped with the sucrose transporter CscB, makes sugar from water, sunlight and CO2. Then, Halomonas boliviensis converts the sugar to PHB, which its uses as an energy storage system. Voila, bioplastics.
It’s not entirely different to systems that use algae to produce targeted oils, as Corbio just acquired out of the old Solazyme technology empire. Only, in this case, the system produces sugars directly from CO2, sunlight and water — just as sugarcane does. No need to bother with producing sugarcane, then processing it. Cutting out the MiddleCane, as it were.
Here are the highlights:
- You get CO2 from PHB via this specialized autotroph/heterotroph pair.
- They are stable and continuously productive over 5 months of co-culture.
- They resist invasion by a contaminant without antibiotics or selective agents.
- PHB production from synthetic consortia rivals that of axenic cyanobacterial culture.
4. What do top chef David Chang, General David Petraeus and IKEA have in common?
They all find themselves among the investors in a $40 million Series D financing raised by AeroFarms. Also participating are Dubai-based Meraas Holdings, London-based ADM Capital, NYC-based AB (AllianceBernstein), London-based Wheatsheaf Group and Beijing-based GSR Ventures.
Founded in 2004 and having built 9 farms to date, AeroFarms is on a mission to fundamentally change the way the world thinks about agriculture by building, owning, and operating indoor vertical farms around the world that grow flavorful, safe, healthy food in a sustainable and socially responsible way. AeroFarms patented indoor vertical farming systems make year-round harvests with peak flavor possible while disrupting the traditional distribution channels that lead to massive carbon emissions and food waste. AeroFarms is able to bring the farm to the consumer while mitigating the food safety and environmental risks of commercial field farming.
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