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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Peoria, Illinois » National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research » Renewable Product Technology Research » Research » Research Project #427981

Research Project: Technologies for Producing Renewable Bioproducts

Location: Renewable Product Technology Research

Project Number: 5010-41000-172-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: May 4, 2015
End Date: May 3, 2020

This project develops commercially targeted technologies for producing value added bioproducts, such as specialty/commodity chemicals and biopolymers made from renewable agriculture feedstocks or biomass. Materials being investigated in this project have potential for significant market expansion and address the growing demand for improved manufacturing of products made with renewable technology. We work closely with industrial collaborators, stakeholders, and customers to ensure that goals are compatible with market needs and will ultimately strengthen our energy independence, improve sustainable agriculture, and provide economic support to rural communities. Goals for this project include the following specific objectives: Objective 1: Enable, from a technological standpoint, fungal-based processes for the commercial production of carboxylic acids and microbial oils. Sub-Objective 1.1: Enhance productivity and yield of microbial oils synthesized by Aureobasidium pullulans. Sub-Objective 1.2: Improve current methods for the fermentative production of carboxylic acids by Rhizopus. Objective 2: Enable chemical and enzymatic processes for the commercial production of (1) sugar-based biopolymers/oligosaccharides and (2) ethers derived from sugars or polyols. Sub-Objective 2.1: Develop biocatalytic processes for the production of novel biopolymers and oligomers from agricultural feedstocks. Sub-Objective 2.2: Develop renewable chemical processes for the synthesis of valuable sugar/polyol-based ethers.

The objectives of this research are achieved using strategies that include microbial strain development, fermentation technology, bacterial/fungal/yeast biotechnology, microbial bioengineering, enzyme technology, chemical/biochemical syntheses, and analytical analyses using state of the art equipment. Approaches for this project currently include the following areas of research: Specialty Oils. In this project, we develop advanced technologies for the production of specialty microbial oils, called liamocins, which are produced by certain strains of the fungus Aureobasidium. Liamocins are a family of novel oils that have significant potential for numerous veterinary, medical, industrial and food applications. However, the technology for large-scale production of liamocin is currently underdeveloped and is only economical for high-value applications. This work provides further development towards the commercialization of liamocins by increasing the yield and desired type of product through a combination of specialized techniques. Carboxylic Acids. We utilize metabolic engineering technology to enhance the production of carboxylic acids by the fungus Rhizopus, which is used in industry to convert sugars obtained from agricultural crops to this important commodity chemical. Carboxylic acids, such as fumaric and lactic acid, are natural fermentation biochemicals that are utilized for the manufacture of several environmentally friendly products, such as biodegradable plastics and cleaning solvents. In order to allow the market potential to continue expanding, it is important that the production costs are minimized by the development of new and improved technologies. Novel Biopolymers and Oligomers. We work on technologies to synthesize unique water-insoluble biopolymers using enzymatic conversion of agriculturally-derived sugars. These polymers are similar to dextrans, which are utilized in a large number of industrial, medical, and food applications. We identify, characterize, and modify novel microorganisms/enzymes that have potential for production of biodegradable products (e.g., fibers, films, encapsulation materials) for a broad number of consumer applications. In addition, we develop novel oligomers (i.e., short sugar chains) that have potential to promote the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria and potentially inhibit pathogens. In order to bring this technology to maturity, we continue improving these processes and develop further novel products made with these methods. Chemical Conversion of Sugars. We develop environmentally-friendly technologies that are capable of converting sugars to a class of compounds, called ethers, which are used extensively in many industrial applications. Ethers made from sugars have valuable potential applications as drop-in renewable alternatives for solvents, lubricants, and waxes. Chemical based conversion of sugars has immense potential to synthesize these important compounds, but progress is hampered by difficulties with reactions that typically involve toxic compounds. Therefore, we continue to explore and develop safer technologies and examine additional applications and products.