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Renewable Chemicals: Codexis and Cargill Develop Microbial Process to Use Corn, Not Petroleum, as Feedstock

Codexis and Cargill announced a major breakthrough in developing a novel microbial process to convert corn sugar to a specific chemical intermediate. This process is an important milestone in the development of a new renewable chemical platform that could eventually replace some petroleum-based products.

When fully commercialized, the new industrial biotech process will convert dextrose derived from corn to a chemical intermediate known as 3, hydroxyproprionic acid (3HP). 3HP is a key intermediate for several commercially important chemicals, including acrylic acid, acrylamide and 1,3 propanediol.

This material has the potential to be the key component in the production of a broad range of chemicals and polymers found in many consumer products, including fabrics, plastic bottles and containers and packaging materials.

The global arcylic acid market is worth more than US$4 billion, according the Brent Erickson, executive vice president for the Industrial and Environmental Section of BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization). This year’s annual BIO conference and trade show just opened in Philadelphia, and served as the backdrop for the announcement.

With natural gas and crude oil prices going through the roof, the commercialization of this renewable chemical platform should be great news for the chemical industry. The chemical industry needs new feedstocks to stay competitive, and this chemical platform will be based on corn, not foreign oil.

Furthermore, the bio-based economy that is evolving is about more than just ethanol. The interface between industrial biotechnology and agricultural production provides the ability to produce inexpensive, natural raw materials—such as sugars and lipids—for manufacturing bio-based products. Sugars and lipids from agricultural crops can be used in many products, replacing increasingly expensive oil and natural gas, which are currently the main feedstocks of the chemical industry.

—Brent Erickson

Codexis is a privately held biosciences company primarily  applying proprietary protein and strain engineering technologies to create novel process development solutions for pharmaceutical manufacturing. 

The Codexis and Cargill work was funded in part by a grant from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in 2002. The DOE program supported the development of new economical, environmentally sustainable materials for industrial manufacturing based on organic, non-synthetic fuels and chemicals.

Further work must be done on commercialization, but Codexis has an incentive: the company is eligible for additional milestone payments from Cargill and royalties on sales upon successful commercialization.



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