Genomatica advances development of feedstock for biochemicals

By Genomatica | June 17, 2015

Genomatica announced significant progress in harnessing cellulosic biomass for commercial production of high-quality chemicals rather than just fuels. Genomatica’s work sets the stage to increase the range of feedstock choices for making chemicals using biotechnology. Through advances in strain engineering and process design, Genomatica has developed clear guidance for biomass pretreatment technology developers to enable their technologies to work better with commercial bioprocesses for chemicals.

An extended series of trials by Genomatica confirmed major improvements in process performance and the qualification of multiple types of biomass sugars as suitable feedstock. The results advance the prospects for economical production of polymer-grade chemicals from biomass as pretreatment technologies mature toward reaching their cost targets.

As part of the current work, Genomatica developed a ‘sugar specification’ for biomass pretreatment technologies to produce sugars compatible with commercially-proven GENO processes; assessed ten technologies against that standard; and demonstrated that at least four can currently produce sugars suitable for commercial production of chemicals from a quality standpoint.

Technical details are available in a March 2015 presentation and June 2015 report. Genomatica’s work was supported in part by grant DE-EE0005002 from the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Integrated approach to bioprocess development enabled rapid progress with biomass

In late 2012, Genomatica achieved commercial scale with its GENO BDO process, producing thousands of tons of the chemical 1,4-butanediol (BDO) from conventional sugars in just a few weeks. To harness cellulosic biomass effectively required changes to the microorganism and the overall process, including downstream separation and purification unit operations. Changes were guided by Genomatica’s ‘whole-process’ approach to bioprocess development, which is driven by techno-economic analysis and consideration of downstream unit operations, and leads more rapidly to a commercially viable solution.

For an integrated process from biomass to BDO, Genomatica has disclosed results achieved earlier in the project that exceed 120 grams per liter and 3.1 grams per liter per hour. While Genomatica has achieved significantly higher results with conventional commercial carbohydrate feedstocks, our achievements to date bring commercial success with biomass within range.

Built core competence in biomass to chemicals; established industry guideposts; next steps

Genomatica believes that its sugar specification and vendor evaluation is the industry’s most extensive effort at characterizing and enhancing the suitability of pretreatment technologies for non-fuel applications. The results of this effort include:

Creating a definitive sugar specification: Genomatica’s spec provides important baseline guidance to biomass pretreatment vendors. The spec documents the specifics of the sugar streams that a pretreatment process needs to meet so it can be used as part of a cost-effective bioprocess for the production of high-quality major chemicals. This eliminates guesswork and gives vendors targets that are more precise than what is required for fuel or ethanol applications.

Feedback to multiple pretreatment vendors: Genomatica shared specific feedback with multiple pretreatment vendors, to accelerate their progress toward becoming suitable candidates for use in integrated bioprocesses for chemical production.

Genomatica has begun working with partners on feedstock evaluation programs as initial steps toward potential technology licensing and commercial plant construction using GENO process technology with biomass feedstock.

“Genomatica’s success with biomass is another step toward providing the industry with ‘best-fit’ feedstock flexibility,” said Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica. “We are pleased to publish the hard data to support our innovation claims, and show that as biomass sugars are produced that meet quality and cost specifications, our technologies are ready to convert those sugars into polymer grade chemicals.”