The FeedstocksUnited (FSU) technology is based on a concept which envisages the trimeric one-carbon (C1) compound 1,3,5-trioxane as the fermentable derivative of a range of C1-compounds, such as methane, syngas and methanol. The concept connects the established industrial chemistry of trioxane production (see Trioxane) to existing biotechnology routes to enable large scale C1-feedstocks-based bioproduction.
This concept is the solution in resolving serious issues in currently explored direct utilization of C1-compounds in bioproduction/fermentation processes (also see Technical). These issues are:
- Very high oxygen demand during fermentation due to reduced nature of the feedstocks.
- Poor solubility and mass transfer of gaseous feedstocks and oxygen in fermentation.
- Very high heat generation during fermentation, which needs cooling.
- Impure feedstock streams, leading to complex and costly purification.
- Toxicity of methanol.
- Safety risks such as explosivity.
Direct fermentation of methane and methanol by dedicated production organisms. Mass transfer of methane and oxygen into water and the production organism is problematic and requires expensive measures in large scale fermentations to sustain required transfer rates. Existing metabolic pathways to convert methane and methanol generate unused heat and require expensive cooling capacity in large scale fermentations.
Trioxane has favorable characteristics that make it a very suitable feedstock for straightforward, sustainable fermentation of a range of organic products:
- Trioxane is produced cheaply from methane, syngas, methanol, and even from industrial off-gases like CO2 and CO (see Trioxane).
- It has the same oxidation/reduction level as sugars, whereas methane and methanol are more reduced.
- No extra heat generation, no extra cooling required.
- Trioxane is a stable solid that dissolves very well in water.
- Its density is about 1.2 kg/l, melting point is ~60⁰C.
- It is not toxic to microbes.
- It is available as a clean stream which is very relevant in view of downstream processing of bioproducts.
- No contamination during fermentation.
Consequently, trioxane can act as an ideal C1-fermentation feedstock, which could be used just like sugar in an existing industrial scale fermentation lay-out. A switch from sugar to trioxane and vice versa can easily be made (feedstock flexibility).
The core of the technology
In order to enable trioxane-based bioprocesses, industrial production microorganisms will need to efficiently utilize trioxane as if it were sugar.
The FSU technology concerns the enzymatic breakdown of trioxane into a common central metabolite for further metabolism enabling growth and product formation. FSU has obtained microorganisms that utilize trioxane as carbon and energy source. Enzymes involved in the first degradation step have been targeted. A key feature of the technology is that no oxygen is required for this degradative step. This offers a decisive advantage over enzymatic breakdown of other C1-feedstocks such as methane and methanol, which depends on oxygen and which results in high oxygen and cooling demand in large-scale fermentations (see Technical).
It is our goal to plug FSU technology into established industrial production organisms to achieve trioxane-based production of commodities: FSU Inside (see figure below)
FSU Inside: The FSU technology can be integrated into existing industrial production organisms to achieve trioxane-based fermentation of commodities. Conversion of trioxane into the central metabolite without the need for oxygen is a key-advantage over the oxygen-dependent conversion of methane and methanol. High solubility of trioxane in water and swift transfer into the production organism allow for economical sound production rates and no extra heat is generated: no extra measures in large scale fermentations.
FSU’s technology position can be considered unique with sufficient freedom to operate. Thus far, no micro-organisms or enzymes have been described that breakdown trioxane. FSU has filed a patent application on this finding with claims covering genes, organisms and processes. There are no other patents known in this newly-arising field.
Status of the work
Key milestones accomplished:
- Microbial degradation of trioxane without oxygen demonstrated.
- A trioxane-degrading bacterium isolated and its genome sequenced.
- Leads obtained that point to specific genes involved in the first step of trioxane degradation.
- A patent application has been filed with claims covering genes, organisms and processes.
- Preliminary techno-economic analysis shows economic advantage over methane and methanol-based fermentations.
- Show functional expression of patented genes in selected host organisms and prove trioxane conversion
- First pass techno-economic analysis of trioxane production.
- Show bioproduction of selected products (e.g. organic acid and protein) from trioxane.
- Improve productivity of the bioprocess to industrially relevant levels.
- Show principle of chemical production of fermentation-grade trioxane via a cheap process.
- Perform detailed techno-economic analysis of the whole trioxane-based value chain.
- Strengthen IP basis by additional patent applications.