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Green chemicals and materials

Greenchem – Speciality chemicals from renewable resources

Industrial biotechnology has a promising role as an enabling technology for production of chemicals, materials and energy from bio-based renewable raw materials. The production processes are based on fermentation or biocatalysis using whole cells or enzymes, and are characterized by reduced energy consumption and waste generation, and biodegradable products.

Greenchem – Speciality chemicals from renewable resources

The research program Greenchem focuses on the production of “green” chemicals targeted for applications in environment-friendly surface coatings, lubricants, consumer care and cleaning. The programme is interdisciplinary involving cooperation between biotechnology, environment systems analysis and innovation systems analysis, and also with industries representing an integrated value chain from raw materials to the users of industrial chemicals.
Coating and lubricant products: Fatty acids, oils, rapeseed- and  tall oil methyl ester, and allyl ethers have been epoxidized using a chemo-enzymatic process. Acrylation of epoxidized oil has also been performed. A few different polyester acrylates have been prepared by combining chemical synthesis of the polyester with subsequent enzymatic acrylation. Epoxidized oil and acrylated product samples have been evaluated for wood coating. The results indicated several good properties. Biolubricants based on vegetable oils are generally used to replace mineral oil, but they are unsuitable for use at extreme temperatures. Complex esters of fatty acids with potentially superior properties than vegetable oils have been synthesized and evaluated.
Biosurfactant products: Sugar based surfactants generally have low toxicity, low irritability and good biodegradability. Synthesis of one group of sugar based surfactants, alkyl glycosides, by reversed hydrolysis reactions between glucose and alcohols (hexanol and octanol) was catalysed efficiently by β-glucosidase B from Thermotoga neapolitana. Another group of environment-friendly surfactants with a broad range of applications are alkanolamides. A solvent free enzymatic process developed for amidation of lauric acid was scaled up during 2007 with excellent product yield. Computer-aided process evaluation has also been performed confirming the potential of the enzymatic process.

Biodegradable plastics

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are biodegradable polymers produced and accumulated intracellularly by several bacteria as energy reservoirs. PHAs can be used as disposable plastics in several areas ranging from packing commodities to medical devices. We have isolated a number of novel moderately halophilic bacteria from saline lakes in Bolivia showing the production of PHAs. Production of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) by Halomonas boliviensis has been investigated by us in detail. In 2007, the productivity of the polymer was improved by using glutamate as the nitrogen source for the organism and cultivation under fed-batch conditions. Application of the polymer for tissue engineering applications is also being investigated.