LanzaTech, INVISTA find direct pathway to bio-based butadiene

December 1, 2015 |

In Kansas, INVISTA and LanzaTech have developed a metabolic ‘toolkit’ that has been successfully applied to generate novel metabolic pathways to bio-derived butadiene and key precursors, such as 1,3 butanediol and 2,3 butanediol, resulting in new direct and 2-step processes for butadiene utilizing gas-fermentation technology.

A metabolic toolkit integrates detailed knowledge about a bacterium’s genetic configuration with the tools to precisely customize that configuration in order to make a particular product, together with a model to accurately predict the performance of the bacterium. This work is in an early stage of development with an aim to commercialize within the next several years.

What is butadiene, anyway, and why important?

Butadiene, a key intermediate chemical used in the production of synthetic rubber and various plastics, is used by INVISTA in its proprietary, butadiene-based adiponitrile (ADN) production technologies. ADN is a critical intermediate chemical used in the manufacture of nylon 6,6.

“For the world to be successful in creating the low carbon future we need to head to,” LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren told The Digest, “we need to capture and reuse every last bit of the “waste” currently produced.  I want us to think of steel mills not only as making sustainable steel (steel is recycled at a rate of almost 90% today) but I also want to think of the co-products in the production of steel as being recycled.  We can for example take their waste gases and reuse (CCU) them for the production of ethanol and now we can also “sequester” this carbon (CCS) in chemicals.  The steel can be used to make the car, the waste gases to make the fuel for the car as well as the chemicals that go into the rest of the car.”

“This development underscores the progress made on butadiene production via gas-fermentation technology as a result of INVISTA’s collaboration with LanzaTech,” said Bill Greenfield, president of INVISTA’s Intermediates business. “While we are still early in the process, we are encouraged by this breakthrough. Our ongoing collaboration will continue to leverage the strong biotechnology capabilities of both LanzaTech and INVISTA.”

This breakthrough highlights the value a metabolic toolkit can bring in developing new pathways for bio-based and bioderived chemical production. According to Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, “The work with INVISTA represents a significant step in integrating the chemicals supply chain into a circular economy model. By utilizing waste carbon resources, we are decoupling the production of butadiene from today’s commodity feedstocks.”

INVISTA believes biotechnology has the potential to significantly improve the cost and availability of several chemicals and raw materials that are used to produce its current products. It views gas fermentation as a key enabling technology that will allow the use of potentially advantaged gas feedstocks, such as waste industrial gases including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

INVISTA and LanzaTech first announced their gas fermentation collaboration efforts in 2012. The initial work was on producing 2,3-BDO using LanzaTech’s native organism. There the co-product was ethanol. Here, the companies announced that they are making 1,3-BDO as the co-product so that the large majority of the metabolites will be butadiene precursors.

The Bottom Line

Two key points here.

Commercially, for those who seek only butadiene this breakthrough removes ethanol as a co-product.

In terms of future R&D, this announce points to LanzaTech’s increased use of a metabolic toolkit.  They are now able to model, predict and then modify the ways a pathway must be changed so that we can channel the carbon in the feedstock to the desired product.  We’ve seen this as a trend across a number of companies — those making specific products, such as Genomatica and LanzaTech — also companies that are building platform bioengineering platforms. It takes several years and typically a number of partners to get to this point — in LanzaTech’s case, fiver years and partnerships with Oak Ridge National Lab, and the Universities of Nottingham and Queensland), and INVISTA. But it’s powerful.

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