Bio-Based Succinic Acid
Synthesizing succinic acid from bio-based starting materials could provide an important and plentiful petroleum alternative for the manufacture of everything from de-icers to pesticides.
Succinic acid occurs naturally in plant and animal tissues and plays an important part in the biochemical citric acid cycle associated with the metabolism of foods. The compound is carbon rich – it has four carbons – and can be synthetically produced easily from sugars through a microbial fermentation process, two properties that make this compound very intriguing to chemists innovating new, greener products and processes.
In fact, in 2004, the Department of Energy listed succinic acid as one of the top chemicals that could become a future commercial feedstock replacing petrochemicals in many applications.
With increasing concern about both the finite extent of petroleum reserves and the climbing cost of oil, non-petroleum feedstocks are becoming both desirable and necessary for numerous industries. Currently succinic acid is used in pharmaceuticals, food products, and in a wide range of industrial uses. Although succinic acid is presently employed for select applications, if it were produced in greater quantity, particularly from biological starting materials, there is the potential to greatly expand its usefulness.
This summer, the 2011 Presidential Green Chemistry Award in the Small Business category was presented to BioAmber, Inc., for the company’s integrated production and downstream applications of bio-based succinic acid. Scientists with BioAmber used an E. coli biocatalyst, to successfully produce succinic acid by fermenting glucose. The continuous downstream purification process is entirely water-based, pH neutral and produces virtually no byproducts. The bio-based process requires 60 percent less energy than synthesis from petrochemical product, is less expensive and is actually a net consumer of carbon dioxide rather than a net producer.
The availability of bio-based succinic acid makes it feasible to make a wide range of products such as biodegradable coffee cup lids, disposable cutlery, spandex, engine coolants, and salts that melt ice and snow. This new bio-based process shows great promise for helping to make a greener chemical enterprise.
More information about the award may be found at http://www.epa.gov/gcc/pubs/pgcc/winners/sba11.html