Media

Scientists to create sustainable alternatives for commodity chemicals

10:52 AM, 27th August 2012
Scientists to create sustainable alternatives for commodity chemicals
Brian Pfleger, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

MADISON, US: With cyanobacteria, carbon dioxide and sunlight, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers aims to create a sustainable alternative source of commodity chemicals currently derived from an ever-decreasing supply of fossil fuels. Funded through a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation programme, the team will develop and evaluate a systems-level biorefinery strategy for using photosynthetic methods to produce chemical compounds.

“The real issue is how do we develop a sustainable chemical economy,” said Brian Pfleger, Assistant Professor, UW-Madison. Although the major products of crude oil refineries are fuels such as gasoline and jet fuel, approximately 20 per cent of crude oil is refined, in several complicated, energy-intensive steps, into petrochemicals. These chemicals permeate our daily lives in products ranging from candles and perfume to disposable diapers, toys, tires and plastic packaging, among many others.

As an alternative to crude oil, researchers around the world are studying ways to produce fuels and chemicals from renewable sources, including plant biomass and algae. Current production processes are energy-intensive and generate sugars or oils, which are ‘intermediate’ products. ‘Then you would take those intermediates and do traditional processing, whether it’s biological or chemical,” said Pfleger.

Using cyanobacteria, which need only light, carbon dioxide and simple nutrients to thrive, Pfleger’s team is aiming for an even more efficient, sustainable outcome. Pfleger and his colleagues will engineer a fast-growing species of cyanobacteria to skip the intermediate processing step and directly produce model chemical compounds such as 3-hydroxypropionate, a precursor to acrylic acid and one of the top 12 chemicals the US Department of Energy has identified as potential building blocks of a sustainable chemical economy.

As part of that process, they will study whether biorefineries can draw on municipal wastewater to provide the cyanobacteria with essential nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus - and in the process, produce clean water suitable for release into the environment. The researchers also will create computer models that enable them to explore issues related to scaling lab experiments up to industrial-scale chemical production processes. With these models, they will study the economics of a sustainable chemical industry, considering factors such as cost, supply structure, and whether a different set of core chemicals is feasible. "And that brings back this whole question of biorefineries. Can you use a biological system to make not just fuels, but a whole suite of different chemicals?” said Pfleger.

The team will incorporate its research into introductory and senior-level undergraduate courses, as well as independent undergraduate research projects. Pfleger and his colleagues also will build on existing outreach partnerships, such as the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition, to engage learners at all levels in their discoveries.

© University of Wisconsin-Madison News

0 Comments

Login

Your Comments (Up to 2000 characters)
Please respect our community and the integrity of its participants. WOC reserves the right to moderate and approve your comment.

Related News


Foster Wheeler awarded contract for refinery modernization in Albania

ZUG, SWITZERLAND: Foster Wheeler AG announced that a subsidiary of its Global Engineering and Construction Group has been awarded a feasibility study ...

Read more
Yara and Apache acquire stake in Burrup Holdings

OSLO, NORWAY: Yara acquired 16 per cent of Burrup Holdings Limited (BHL) for $143 million, increasing its ownership share in the company to 51 per cen ...

Read more
BHP Billiton to sell stake in Richards Bay Minerals to Rio Tinto

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: BHP Billiton has exercised an option to sell its 37 per cent non-operated interest in Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) to Rio Tinto a ...

Read more
Sealed Air update on W R Grace legal proceedings

ELMWOOD PARK, US: Sealed Air Corporation reported the US District Court of Delaware in the W R Grace bankruptcy denied all objections and confirmed Gr ...

Read more
Westlake Chemicals increases offer for Georgia Gulf

HOUSTON, US: Westlake Chemical Corporation announced that it has submitted a revised proposal to the board of Georgia Gulf Corporation to acquire all ...

Read more
BASF to invest $5 million in Solidia Technologies

LUDWIGSHAFEN, GERMANY/ PISCATAWAY, US: BASF Venture Capital GmbH is investing $5 million in Solidia Technologies Inc as part of $27 million financing ...

Read more
Copyright © 2014. Kimberlite Softwares Pvt. Ltd., India. All rights reserved.
World of Chemicals.