Engineers develop hybrid technology create biorenewable nylon

Engineers develop hybrid technology to create biorenewable nylon

6:45 AM, 11th February 2016
Engineers develop hybrid technology to create biorenewable nylon
Zengyi Shao and Jean-Philippe Tessonnier (left to right), are combining their expertise in biocatalytic and chemical catalytic technologies to produce a new type of biobased nylon.

AMES, US: Engineers at Lowa State University have found a way to combine a genetically engineered strain of yeast and an electrocatalyst to efficiently convert sugar into a new type of nylon.

Previous attempts to combine biocatalysis and chemical catalysis to produce biorenewable chemicals have resulted in low conversion rates. That’s usually because the biological processes leave residual impurities that harm the effectiveness of chemical catalysts.

This research is published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

“The ideal biorefinery pipelines, from biomass to the final products, are currently disrupted by a gap between biological conversion and chemical diversification. We herein report a strategy to bridge this gap with a hybrid fermentation and electrocatalytic process,” said lead authors Zengyi Shao and Jean-Philippe Tessonnier, Lowa State assistant professors of chemical and biological engineering who are also affiliated with the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) based at Lowa state.

The process described by the engineers “opens the door to the production of a broad range of compounds not accessible from the petrochemical industry,” said Shao.

Moving forward, the engineers will work to scale up their technology by developing a continuous conversion process, said Tessonnier, who’s a Carol and Jack Johnson Faculty Fellow and also an associate scientist with the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory.

Shao’s research group has created genetically engineered yeast – “a microbial factory,” she said – that ferments glucose into muconic acid. By applying metabolic engineering strategies, the group also significantly improved the yield of the acid.

Then, without any purification, Tessonnier’s group introduced a metal catalyst – lead – into the mixture and applied a small voltage to convert the acid. The resulting reaction adds hydrogen to the mix and produces 3-hexenedioic acid.

After simple separation and polymerization, the engineers produced biobased, unsaturated nylon-6,6, which has the advantage of an extra double bond in its backbone that can be used to tailor the polymer’s properties.

The engineers say the hybrid conversion technology offers many advantages: The reaction is performed at room temperature, it uses a cheap and abundant metal instead of precious elements such as palladium or platinum, and the other compounds involved in the reaction are produced from water.

“We gave it a try and it worked immediately,” Tessonnier said. “The process does not need additional chemical supplement, and it works amazingly at ambient temperature and pressure, which is very rare for this type of process.”Shao and Tessonnier started talking about working together while car-pooling from a research meeting two hours from campus.

Their collaboration illustrates the CBiRC way – combining the tools of biologists and chemists to develop hybrid technologies that produce novel biorenewable chemicals. And now the resulting collaboration – and CBiRC’s core vision – is turning out discoveries and high-profile research papers.

“CBiRC seeds these new ideas and concepts,” Tessonnier said. “It’s all about integration.”

The engineers’ research was supported by CBiRC, the National Science Foundation, Lowa State’s Plant Sciences Institute and the Ames Laboratory.

© Lowa State University News

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