For many years there have been growing concerns about the dependence on imported oil, particularly in the USA, and the awareness that the world’s oil supplies are not limitless are additional factors prompting the chemical and biotechnology industries to explore nature’s richness in search of methods to replace petroleum-based synthetics.

Thankfully,  an entire branch of biotechnology, known as ‘White Biotechnology’ or ‘Industrial Biotechnology’, is devoted to this. It uses living cells—from yeast, moulds, bacteria and plants—and enzymes to synthesize products that are easily degradable, require less energy and create less waste during their production.

One of the wonders of white biotechnology is BioIsoprene, a revolutionary bio-based alternative to petroleum-derived isoprene(or petro-isoprene) as it is increasingly evident that petro-isoprene faces challenging times with the constant increase in oil prices and hence bio-isoprene aims to mainly, reduce the dependence of rubber and tire industries on oil-derived products. Conclusively, finding a replacement for the limited oil-derived products not only the right thing to do from a business standpoint, it is also the right thing to do for the environment.

Some business endeavors contributing to the switch include Genencor (now owned by DuPont) which has been partnering with Goodyear Tire & Rubber since 2007 to develop BioIsoprene, which reached the commercial market in 2013. Texas-based GlycosBio collaborated with Malaysia’s Bio-XCell(May 2010)  to build a bio-refinery with a planned 20,000 tonne/year capacity to produce isoprene using glycerine (derived from oil palm) as a feedstock. The company has produced bio-isoprene for commercial rubber applications in 2014. In May 2012, Bridgestone announced its joint development of synthetic rubber made from isoprene with Japanese company Ajinomoto. Isoprene (2-methyl-1,3-butadiene), is a common organic compound and key commodity chemical for the rubber and textile industries, especially in the production of synthetic rubber. Today isoprene production at the industrial scale relies on the petroleum-derived feedstock and well-developed chemical processes.

However, with increasing industrial demand for isoprene, the current petroleum-based isoprene production capacity is not sufficient for the current and anticipated future markets. Bioisoprene, which is produced from renewable feedstock through biocatalysts, is the solution to this. Bioisoprene formation has been widely discovered in nature, especially in forest ecosystems.

However, the collection of isoprene from plants is technically and economically unfeasible as its production rate is simply not sufficient enough to match the demand. In comparison, microbial production of isoprene is attractive, as the large-scale fermentation together with downstream processing units can meet the industrial requirements of Bioisoprene.

Pioneering work has demonstrated that isoprene can be produced by naturally occurring bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis, but the production titer is quite low. Further progress to maximize the microbial production of isoprene or its derivatives has been achieved by applying metabolic engineering tools to overexpress the biosynthetic pathways in chassis bacteria or yeast. The historical development of feasible methods to produce isoprene went through several stages. The initial methods for isoprene production were through organic synthesis. From the 1910s to the 1970s, a variety of organic synthetic methods were developed to produce isoprene. These synthetic methods mainly included the reaction of acetone with acetylene, dimerization of propylene, dehydrogenation of tertiary amylenes, dehydrogenation of isopentane, and isobutylene-formaldehyde condensation. Although these primary processes could not compete with the more economical processes developed later, some of them remain commercially even today. However to achieve economic and technical competitiveness, the isoprene bioprocess needs further development, by

      1. Construction of powerful microbial produces via synthetic biology techniques and bioengineering,
    • Reduction of the unit cost by utilization of inexpensive feedstock, and
    • Upgradation of gas-phase recovery technique.

 

Other than being used in the production of synthetic rubber, isoprene has several other applications, each of which are illustrated below.

bioiso

Industrial biotechnology can go a long way in pursuit of sustainable energy. Non petro products based bioisoprene not only serves as an ecofriendly production but also saves the costs. Not surprisingly, it has been a commercial success!

Bioisoprene thus re-assurably highlights one of the major achievements in White Biotechnology.

Author : Nikhil More
Editor : Aastha Munjal
Published : 7th January 2016
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