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Lygos completes first pilot-scale production of malonic acid from renewable resources at Berkeley Lab’s ABPDU

Lygos, Inc. (earlier post) has successfully achieved pilot scale production of malonic acid from sugar via a fermentation pathway using engineered microbes. Lygos’ novel manufacturing technology decreases CO2 emissions, eliminates toxic inputs and could replace the existing petroleum production process for malonic acid at lower cost and less energy.

Lygos was the first company to spin out of the Department of Energy’s Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), a research center established in 2007 to pursue breakthroughs in the production of cellulosic biofuels. The process uses sugar as a feedstock, which is metabolized by designer microorganisms.

Malonic acid is a C3-dicarboxylic acid and currently a high-value chemical intermediate useful for production of a variety of pharmaceuticals, flavors, fragrances, and specialty materials. The DOE has identified malonic acid as a member of an important second tier group of chemical building blocks that can derived from biomass sugars. Lygos has identified more than $1 billion in derivative specialty and commodity chemicals that can be accessed from malonic acid.

The petrochemical process to produce malonic acid requires chloroacetic acid and sodium cyanide, and is both costly and environmentally hazardous. Lygos’ fermentation technology is environmentally benign, scalable, and enables production of malonic acid at a lower cost than the current petrochemical manufacturing process, according to the company.

Lygos CTO and co-founderDr. Jeffrey Dietrich noted in 2014 that producing an organic acid increases the acidity of the fermentation medium, and that most microbes have low tolerance for acid and grow poorly at low pH. While that characteristic offers a benefit by mitigating the risk of microbial contamination at industrial-scale production, it also poses a challenge for the microbial producer. The most commonly used microbes in industry and academia, E. coli and S. cerevisiae grow at neutral pH and are not well suited for producing these products.

Lygos exclusively develops acid-tolerant yeast and fungi. The company has developed a suite of molecular biology tools and protocols necessary to engineer these microbes; this, the company says, will provide it with a competitive advantage as it optimizes its microbes for improved performance and the production of other products.

This is an exciting achievement for our team—it’s the first time malonic acid has been produced in meaningful quantities from renewable materials instead of petroleum. The process metrics we observed at lab scale were successfully transitioned to pilot scale. With this manufacturing run, we are able to provide samples of high quality malonic acid to customers and partners. As we move forward with commercialization, we’re seeking additional partners to accelerate larger scale manufacturing and unlock new product applications.

—Dr. Eric Steen, CEO and co-founder of Lygos

The scale-up was performed at the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) is available to industry, national laboratories, and academic institutions for the demonstration of biomass deconstruction and advanced biofuel/bio-based chemical production processes.

The successful achievement of pilot scale manufacturing was completed in the research phase of a program funded in part by the Bioenergy Technologies Office, in the US Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).


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