Developing microorganisms for production of bioplastics

CPI is working with ReBio Technologies Ltd and the University of Bath to produce modified strains of microorganisms to produce D-lactic acid for the manufacture of bio based products such as high performance bioplastics.

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The project has the potential to address an important need in the industrial biotechnology community by transitioning away from petrochemical and agricultural-based feedstocks to second generation waste derived feedstocks. The project intends to demonstrate lab scale production of D-lactic acid from modified Geobacillus strains. Once proven, these lab scale demonstrations will then be employed to design and demonstrate a scalable manufacturing process.

Using second generation waste derived feedstocks, such as animal wastes or scraps from food production, that currently have little or no value are ideal. This would increase their economic worth while reducing waste and providing additional support to a growing waste problem.

The bacterial host grows at high temperatures and has the ability to convert long chain sugars (C5-C6) from non-food materials. This approach would enable the production of D-lactic acid directly via fermentation rather than current processes which require chemical conversion of L-lactic acid produced from food based feedstocks such as starch.

Unlike traditional plastics and biodegradable plastics, bioplastics generally do not produce a net increase in carbon dioxide gas when they break down. The concept behind bioplastics is simple: if we make plastics from renewable feedstocks to start with, they’d break down more quickly and easily.

ReBio Technologies Ltd is an industrial biotechnology company specialising in the development of proprietary routes to key commodity platform biochemical and has experience in developing industrial strains based on a Geobacillus host bacteria for the production of bioethanol.

The company develops and applies cutting edge tools in biotechnology to elucidate and design new biosynthetic pathways in a range of microbial hosts, for the efficient and cost-effective production of high-value chemicals through fermentation. This, coupled with state-of-the-art polymer technology, provides manufacturing industries with innovative solutions to their raw material requirements. Industrial biotechnology is recognised by UK government as a promising means of developing low carbon products and processes. The technology that the project is hoping to demonstrate has the potential to unlock an economic approach to transforming cellulosic sugars and the millions of tonnes of food and landfill waste derived sugars produced every year into sustainable, high value chemicals.

In addition to the above, the project will develop a business model and identify partners for future development activities.

The University of Bath team is led by Professor David Leak who has been supervising projects involving Geobacillus physiology and molecular biology since the early 1990s and who has led the academic research on a series of projects involving ReBio.