Sunday, February 28, 2010

Commercial Bioacrylic Plant Planned for 2013

OPX Biotechnologies announced progress on its bacteria based bioconversion of sugars to acrylic acid. It has engaged the engineering company Merrick to work on the plans.

The photo at right shows President Chas Eggert on the right. Chas is supposed to be a 32 year veteran of the chemical industry, but he looks pretty youthful here.

Based on their patent WO/2010/011874 which they acquired from the University of Colorado, they have microbes, probably e. coli, making 3-hydroxy propionic acid. This an isomer of lactic acid, 2-hydroxy propionic acid. Either isomer can be dehydrated by simple heating to make acrylic acid, but the yield is higher with the 3-hydroxy proprionic acid version. (Acrylic acid is propenoic acid.)

This patent addresses genetic modifications that prevent the 3-hydroxy propionic acid from killing the bacteria at high concentrations.  In the past, the problem has been separation of 3-hydroxy propional and other organic acids that have a similar boiling point.  The trick is not getting the bugs to make it, but the later separation. No word, at least publically on that.

Why is this important? Currently almost all plastics and paints are made form petroleum, as discussed in this Depth of Processing post. There are customers who would deliberately buy from a supplier that was renewable and carbon neutral.