Collaboration Success: Two Labs Develop a Promising Pathway to Biobased Fuels and Chemicals
(U.S. Department of Energy) Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, have successfully modified a microorganism to produce a useful intermediate from sugar fermentation, which can then be upgraded into valuable biobased fuels and chemicals. NREL’s modified microorganism, a world-class cellulosic ethanol fermentation organism (Zymomonas mobilis), can now exclusively produce 2,3-butanediol (2,3-BDO)—a versatile fermentation intermediate that can be catalytically upgraded to a variety of hydrocarbon fuel precursors and valuable chemical co-products from six-carbon and five-carbon cellulosic sugars. NREL scientists have known the benefits of Z. mobilis, also known as Zymo, for years, and the bacteria can be used in the fermentation process for breaking down sugar for biofuels more efficiently than yeast.
NREL collaborated on this project with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which showed several catalytic upgrading pathways can convert 2,3-BDO to produce a range of fuels and co-products. Techno-economic modeling performed by NREL indicates a strong potential to cost-effectively produce diesel- and jet fuel–range molecules while diverting a portion of the 2,3-BDO intermediate to a wide range of large-market co-product applications, including solvents, polymers, and chemical feedstocks. Producing bioproducts, including biobased chemicals, alongside biofuels will bring down the price per gallon, allowing biofuels to be price-competitive. READ MORE