APPLICATIONS OF TECHNOLOGY:
- “Green” production of toluene, ethylbenzene, or other aromatic hydrocarbons
- Enables production of commodity chemicals from non-petroleum feedstocks
- Uses self-regenerating catalysts
Researchers at Berkeley Lab’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have identified an enzyme to biochemically synthesize renewable toluene and other important industrial commodity chemicals.
Toluene is an important industrial chemical with a global market of 29 million tons per year whose commercial uses include:
(1) synthesis of other important aromatic feedstocks,
(2) octane booster in gasoline, and
(3) component of diesel fuel to promote swelling of elastomers.
JBEI researchers discovered that a bacterial enzyme, phenylacetate decarboxylase (PhdB), converts phenylacetic acid to toluene and enables engineering of a glucose-to-toluene metabolic pathway. An essential part of the enzyme discovery was identification of a cognate glycyl radical activating enzyme (PhdA), which is required to activate PhdB.
The unconventional process of enzyme discovery from a complex microbial community (>300,000 genes), rather than from a microbial isolate, involved metagenomics- and metaproteomics-enabled biochemistry, as well as in vitro confirmation of activity with recombinant enzymes.
The JBEI invention enables biochemical production of toluene from renewable feedstocks (e.g., glucose or xylose from lignocellulosic biomass), rather than from petroleum.
DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Proven principle
RELATED PUBLICATION: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41589-018-0017-4
STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.
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