Precision Fermentation Can Lead the Way to Sustainability in the Chemical Industry | AIChE

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Precision Fermentation Can Lead the Way to Sustainability in the Chemical Industry

Industrial biotechnology offers an avenue for large-scale production of chemicals without requiring petroleum feedstocks. One company’s innovations in this space hold promise for meeting decarbonization goals in the chemical industry.

Public attention has largely focused on automobile exhaust and coal-fired power plants as pollution sources, but less scrutiny has been given to the manufacture of chemicals needed to make everyday products as a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The footprint of the U.S. chemical industry’s GHG emissions is over 200 million m.t. of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) per year — a little less than a third of the 617 m.t. released by passenger cars — making the industry a significant contributor to the nation’s GHG emissions total (1, 2). Moreover, this number is expected to double over the next 30 years if abatement measures are not implemented (1).

The threat of climate change has given rise to initiatives to decarbonize by reducing GHG emissions. A growing coalition of countries, cities, businesses, and institutions have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. More than 70 countries, including the biggest polluters — China, the U.S., and the European Union — have set a net-zero target, which would cover about 76% of global emissions (3).

This target is increasingly being reinforced by regulations that are driving the adoption of sustainable practices, such as the landmark Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S., which is the most aggressive action to combat the climate crisis in the country’s history, and Europe’s recently approved Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), a tariff on carbon-intensive products imported by the European Union.

The net-zero target is also being reinforced by consumer demand for sustainability, which is at an all-time high (4). In the face of these pressures, customers for chemical products are increasingly focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies, which are among the factors also considered by investors in measuring the sustainability of an investment in a specific company.

For the chemical industry, the decarbonization of chemical production presents a challenge — and an opportunity (1). Successfully developing low-carbon products and solutions will require embracing new technologies and moving production closer to end markets. It also holds the potential to address the threat of climate change, to capture additional value, and to drive long-term growth. A recent Deloitte report (1) highlights how developing a sustainable product portfolio will be at the heart of a successful chemical company, noting that companies who don’t adapt their manufacturing processes will face increasing pressure from end-market consumers.

One way of achieving decarbonization is through innovative, next-generation industrial biotechnology. The application of biotechnology to chemical synthesis uses microbial organisms to produce chemical products from the fermentation of feedstocks like renewable agricultural sugars. Products include intermediate and specialty chemicals for human nutrition, animal feed, sweeteners, personal and home care products, materials, monomers, and more.

Today, industrial biotechnology is attracting increased interest because it doesn’t rely on petroleum feedstocks, which are finite resources that can only be expected to become more expensive and are associated with GHG emissions. Producing more chemicals using industrial biotechnology could reduce the environmental impact of the chemical industry, while also lowering dependence on foreign petroleum.

The biobased manufacture of chemicals has historically required exorbitant costs and timelines to commercialize. DMC Biotechnologies has developed a proprietary precision fermentation process that addresses the barriers that have challenged the industry for decades. By making the development of biobased chemicals more affordable, the company offers an exciting opportunity to move them into the mainstream.

DMC’s technology, Dynamic Metabolic Control (DMC), holds the prospect of harnessing biotechnology for the manufacture of a wide variety of chemicals used in everyday consumer and industrial products — chemicals that are economically attractive, have a lower environmental impact, and support local economies with a distributed manufacturing model.

This article will explore how DMC is accelerating the adoption of sustainable practices and goals in the chemical industry...

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