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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Peoria, Illinois » National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research » Renewable Product Technology Research » Research » Research Project #427993

Research Project: Technologies for Producing Biobased Chemicals

Location: Renewable Product Technology Research

Project Number: 5010-41000-173-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Apr 27, 2015
End Date: Apr 26, 2020

This project creates new chemical and biochemical processes to produce value-added products from biomass, particularly from plant lipids and lignocellulose. The new, bio-based value-added products will create new markets and expand existing markets for vegetable oils and agrimaterials, enhancing the profitability of small- and medium-sized agribusinesses, which in turn benefits the local rural economy. New products will be developed that improve the health and safety of the American public, extend the shelf life of consumer products, and provide biobased alternatives and substitutes for petroleum-based chemicals. We will collaborate within the project, with other Agricultural Research Service researchers, with academic researchers and industrial partners to reach the following objectives. Objective 1: Enable, from a technological perspective, commercially-viable microbial, enzymatic, and chemical processes to produce commercial products from vegetable oils. Subobjective 1.A: Evaluate marketable oil derivatives under conditions of use. Subobjective 1.B: Produce polyol oils and oxygenated fatty acids from soybean oil through novel microbial biocatalysis. Objective 2: Enable new commercial encapsulation systems for controlled-release of bioactive molecules. Objective 3: Enable new commercial processes for the production of industrial chemicals from vegetable oils or lignocellulosics.

The objectives of this research are accomplished using strategies that include isolated enzymes in unconventional media, microbial strain development and fermentation, encapsulation and controlled release of bioactive molecules, high temperature, inorganic catalytic conversions, chemical/biochemical syntheses, and analytical analyses using state of the art equipment and facilities. Approaches for this project currently include the following areas of research: Vegetable oil-based biochemicals. We develop chemical and biochemical systems for the conversion of seed oils to value-added specialty/commodity chemicals. Our approach is to use isolated enzymes, whole microorganisms, and inorganic catalysts to modify domestically produced vegetable oils to introduce functional features valuable to consumer marketplaces. While the industry accepts such new molecules upon adequate safety testing, stronger product claims based on efficacy still need to be substantiated. Biochemical, cellular, and tribological analyses are undertaken to establish the metabolic fate and influence of the novel vegetable oil derivatives. No human or live animal testing is needed. Encapsulation and timed release of bioactive molecules. We develop phospholipid-based encapsulation systems (i.e. liposomes) that limit the release of bioactive molecules and protect the bioactives from degradation. Liposomes are used to encapsulate the bioactives of interest and the bioactives-loaded liposomes are further compartmentalized within a secondary liposome for increased protection. The multicompartmentalized liposome system provides increased protection and controlled release of the bioactive molecule. The liposome encapsulated bioactive systems are analyzed for stability and release rate of the bioactive molecules. Highly stable encapsulation and controlled release systems are highly desirable in the functional foods and beverage industries. Integrated biorefinery systems for biochemicals. We couple biomass pretreatment with catalytic conversions to form integrated processes to convert lignocellulosics and lipids into bio-based chemicals that replace petroleum-based products. Whole biomass, crop residue or dedicated crops (e.g. switchgrass), is milled and extracted with hot water to produce a mixture of lignin and sugars. Lipids are treated to introduce oxygen atoms into the fatty acids. These pretreated materials are subjected to catalytic conversion to produce bio-based chemicals. The catalysts are designed and synthesized with specific capabilities to produce targeted agri-based chemicals. The pretreatment and catalytic conversion steps are developed to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a continuous pretreatment/catalytic conversion technology platform for use in biorefineries.