Dr. Constantinos Theodoropoulos and Professor Colin Webb from the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science at The University of Manchester are the recipients of the prestigious 2011 IChemE Innovation and Excellence Award for Bioprocessing for their work on “Sustainable biorefineries through the co-production of fuels and chemicals: The biochemical production of succinic acid from biorefinery glycerol”. The IChemE awards took place on 3rd November at the ICC, Birmingham.
The rise of biorefineries has led to a world-wide surplus of glycerol, the main by-product of biodiesel production and prices have dropped significantly. Current markets cannot absorb the predicted increase in glycerol as demand grows for biodiesel, so new uses must be found. One option is turning it into commodity chemicals. Theodoropoulos and Webb, along with their research groups at Manchester found that a bacterium, Actinobacillus succinogenes, can convert glycerol into succinic acid, used in a variety of products from medicines, to food flavours, to plasticisers. According to the US Department of Energy, succinic acid is one of the top value-added chemicals produced from biomass. The team have studied A. succinogenes under a variety of conditions and nutrients and developed predictive computational models for the process and for relevant integrated biorefinery designs. This process will add significant value to this by-product stream leading to the construction of integrated biorefineries with significantly improved economic sustainability, which co-produce fuels and chemicals.
UMIP has funded the development of scale up of the process through its Proof-of-Principle (PoP) funding programme and has protected the intellectual property (IP) by patent filing. Simon Clarke, UMIP Licensing Manager, comments: “It is great news that this exciting technology has been recognised at the IChemE Innovation and Excellence Awards, which are highly regarded throughout the international chemical, process and biochemical engineering community. The research team has made good progress so far and we are now working together on a commercialisation plan which will ultimately enable scaling up to industrial levels.”
According to the IChemE Chief Executive David Brown: “Winning an IChemE award is a real achievement. Our awards are globally recognised and attract entries from all over the world. To be deemed the best in a particular area of chemical engineering like this is something worth celebrating and in past years, has proven to be the launch pad to even greater successes.”