‘This process is one step towards deoxygenating these microbial products and it allows us to start making things that can replace petrochemicals, using glucose from plant biomass…’
Researchers from UC Berkeley, California, US and the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers, University of Minnesota, US, have developed a process combining fermentation and chemical refining which produces ‘petroleum-like liquids’ from renewable plant feedstock.
Publishing their work in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team of chemists have engineered microbes to produce hydrocarbon chains that can easily be deoxygenated with reduced energy consumption. Currently, producing petroleum-based chemicals, such as fuels, lubricants and plastics, via a microbial route leads to materials containing too much oxygen, and other unwanted atoms, which have to be removed.
The researchers say that their new process allows ‘microbial production of a broad range of chemicals currently made from oil and gas – in particular, products like lubricants…which contain between eight and ten carbon atoms in the chain.’ Engineering bacteria to make hydrocarbon chains of medium length has not been achieved before, though others have developed microbial processes for making shorter and longer chains, the researchers added.
UC Berkeley Professor of Chemistry and of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Michelle Chang, said ‘This process is one step towards deoxygenating these microbial products and it allows us to start making things that can replace petrochemicals, using glucose from plant biomass, which is more sustainable and renewable.’