Green Chemicals
Bio-succinic acid produced from abandoned wood waste has proven to be both environmentally beneficial as well as cheaper to produce. ​​

Green pharmaceuticals from wood waste

A truly green pharmaceutical chemical, with lower environmental impact as well as lower production costs. That’s the result of a multidisciplinary collaboration between researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and two Swiss Universities. 
– The production of green bio-based pharmaceuticals is an important field which needs more attention and a lot more collaborations like this one, says Stavros Papadokonstantakis, associate professor at Chalmers. 
Since the production of pharmaceuticals has high environmental impact an international team of researchers from different fields have collaborated to find a more sustainable way of producing pharmaceutical chemicals. They have focused on succinic acid – a platform chemical based on crude oil and widely used in the production of antibiotics, amino acids and vitamins. Bio-succinic acid produced from abandoned wood waste has proven to be both environmentally beneficial as well as cheaper to produce. An article about the new discoveries has recently been highlighted in the competitive journal of Energy and Environmental Science, and will be an important contribution to the discussion of the potential for sustainable bio-succinic acid production. 
– In this specific context, our article could be useful to bio-tech companies that want to focus their research in alternative technologies for producing this chemical, rather than using crude oil as raw material, says Stavros Papadokonstantakis.
Fruitful collaboration in three steps​
The collaboration between Chalmers University of Technology, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) and Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL) was in three parts. 
Professor Dr. Vassily Hatzimanikatis’ team at EFPL studied the performance  of a novel metabolically engineered bacteria. The bacteria – Escerichia Coli – produces high amounts of bio-succinic acid from a sugar source, originating from wood waste. 
The team of Professor Dr. Stavros Papadokonstantakis at Chalmers rigorously modelled an integrated industrial production process for this novel bacteria and set the scope for the final part in which Professor Dr Konrad Hungerbühler’s team at ETH performed a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and evaluated the whole value chain from an environmental, safety and economic perspective. 
- Out of the fruitful collaboration, we were able to show how bio-succinic acid can be produced as a truly green pharmaceutical from abandoned wood waste, which has 28% less environmental impact and a 39% higher estimated profit compared to succinic acid produced from crude oil, says Konrad Hungerbühler.
Stavros Papadokonstantakis thinks that this collaborative research may have several positive outcomes. Apart from the bio-tech companies mentioned above, the models developed during the research can also be useful for LCA practitioners. The paper can also motivate other researchers to perform similar, multidisciplinary studies incorporating several different scales.
- Finally, the specific application results, showing how metabolic engineering can be combined with process design and LCA is something that was definitely worth the more than 1.5 years of work put into this, says Stavros. 
Production of chemicals an interesting domain for biomass
In Stavros Papadokonstantakis opinion, the production of platform and high-value chemicals is a much more interesting application domain for biomass than that of biofuels, at least for the near future. 
- First, the respective production volumes are smaller, making in this way the “technology to market” path shorter, especially for the high-value chemicals, where there is still a significant profit margin. 
- Another reason is that besides metals, carbon is the main source for the material of our civilization. Notwithstanding the environmental benefits of replacing fossil fuels by using biomass directly or indirectly for energy, one has to think more long term and consider that while there is a lot of ongoing research on other forms of renewable energy technologies, the research for replacing carbon as a main material component is far less developed. 
To develop the research in replacing carbon in production of chemicals there is also a need to develop how multidisciplinary research and international collaborations is carried out.
- A really interesting part of the work ahead is to create communication channels and to smooth out communication discrepancies between the research groups. Today there is no real systematic way to do this and this is what makes such collaborations interesting, säys Stavros. 

Text: Christian Löwhagen

Succinic acid
Succinic acid is added to fuel and lubricants to protect motors from corrosion. It goes under the name of E 363 in the food industry, where it is used as an acidifier and flavour enhancer, and to introduce air into food products. However, succinic acid is used predominantly as a starting point to create a huge range of chemical compounds: among other things, it is used to manufacture vitamins, medication, solvents, crop protection products, polymers and aromatic substances for perfumes.

Page manager Published: Fri 02 Sep 2016.