The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project will be the development of a fermentation-based technology that enables the renewable and sustainable production of medium-chain fatty acids - an important class of widely used industrial chemicals - using glycerol-rich waste streams as feedstocks. These chemical products constitute a growing multi-billion dollar market with applications in the flavoring, fragrances, personal care, plastics, textile, and pharmaceutical industries. This technology also will create new high-value uses for existing glycerol-rich waste streams generated within the bio-diesel industry, which can greatly improve the economic competitiveness of bio-diesel with fossil diesel, especially in an era of low oil prices. Thus, commercialization of this fermentation-based technology will serve as a foundation for developing additional eco-friendly technologies for the production of other industrial chemicals that contribute to the ~$800 billion/year petrochemical industry, in turn creating new jobs for helping the environment, benefiting society, and building a sustainable future. In addition, this SBIR project will establish a carbon conservation technology as the basis for developing the next-generation of fermentation-based chemical production technologies.
This SBIR Phase I project proposes to develop a unique carbon conserving (C2) platform technology to enable the cost-competitive and sustainable production of a variety of fatty chemicals from renewable feedstocks such as crude glycerol. The C2 platform technology comprises a series of non-natural biosynthetic pathways that minimize/eliminate carbon loss as CO2 during production, thereby improving theoretical yields over the state of the art by as much as 50%. The improved achievable yields along with the anaerobic production processes enabled by the C2 technology are two crucial features for establishing bioprocesses with cost-competitive economics relative to incumbent technologies, which is critical for commercial success. One goal of this Phase I project will be to demonstrate the production of a high-value fatty acid, hexanoic acid, from crude glycerol and using the C2 technology. For the second goal, enzyme screening, strain development, and metabolic engineering approaches will be implemented for improving hexanoic acid production metrics (i.e., higher titers, rates, and yields) from crude glycerol. Accomplishing these goals will substantially de-risk the C2 technology and establish its commercial potential for the cost-advantaged production of hexanoic acid at the commercial level.