Sugar based raw materials – a charming solution!

No need to worry! The company Total already announced increasing prices for raw oil in the near future and furthermore they promised increasing prices in the long run, too.

Reducing the dependence on oil

In my opinion, it is always a good idea to think about alternatives for producing raw materials from more reliable resources, rather than being dependent on oil. Researchers from Vienna, Austria were following this mantra and discovered a way to sustainably produce platform chemicals like 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HPA), an important precursor for acrylic acid.

Sugar industry side products

Levulinic acid is obtained by degrading cellulose and other saccharides – basically unused waste of the sugar industry. Theoretically levulinic acid can be further converted into different chemicals, like the mentioned 3-HPA. But just theoretically, as 90% hydrogen peroxide and high reaction temperatures had to be employed in order to facilitate a mandatory Baeyer-Villiger oxidation. For safety and energy reasons an apparently unpleasant reaction.

Bacteria help to replace harsh reaction conditions

Austrian researchers from the Technical University in Vienna could now identify several enzymes (Baeyer-Villiger monooxygenases, BVMO) which were able to perform this necessary reaction. Without higher reaction temperatures, without toxic and explosive hydrogen peroxide. Just by using atmospheric oxygen. The genetic sequences encoding these enzymes were then introduced into the plasmid of E. coli bacteria. By that, E. coli was now able to produce this enzyme. The transformation of levulinic acid was directly tested in a bioreactor and several productive enzymes were identified.

Technical application – an easy task?

The researchers are optimistic that their finding can be easily transferred from laboratory to industrial scale. And I am optimistic as well. Why? Because E. coli is one of the best known bacterial organisms and the workhorse for biotechnology.In my opinion it is just a question of time (and of money) how long it will take to industrialise this smart finding and to produce sugar based raw materials for the coatings industry.

Now it is your turn!

  • Are you experienced with biobased raw materials?
  • Can you name further advantages
  • Are there any disadvantages?
  • How can obstacles be solved?

Kind regards, Michael Richter


M. J. Fink, M. D. Mihovilovic,Chem. Commun., 2015, 51, 2874-2877

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