Cascade processes for integrated bio-refining of agricultural waste in India and Vietnam

Lead Research Organisation: Aston University
Department Name: Sch of Life and Health Sciences

Abstract

Managing the water, energy and food requirements of a constantly-rising world population, in the context of climate change, is a key global challenge. Significant growth in proven and predicted fossil fuel reserves mean that achieving the Paris COP21 target for a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in mean global temperature relative to the pre-industrial level is at risk if we remain dependent upon these reserves.

Biomass derived from agricultural and forestry residues is a low carbon feedstock for transportation fuels and organic chemicals. Integrating conversion processes so that biofuels, chemicals and energy are co-produced maximises the economic viability of waste biomass utilisation; an approach analogous to current petroleum refineries that deliver high volume/low value (fuels and commodity chemicals) and low volume/high value (fine/speciality chemicals) products in tandem. The potential for agricultural waste as a feedstock for low carbon fuels and chemicals is vast, even allowing for sustainable land management practices. In the EU alone, 16% of road transport fuel could be produced from waste by 2030 which would deliver green-house gas savings of greater than 60%.

In Asia rice is the single most important crop, annually yielding >250 million tonnes of waste rice residues. Current practices of "at-site" burning of these waste residues in developing nations have serious detrimental effects on the environment and human health; improved waste management is therefore essential. To employ rice residues as sustainable feedstocks for transportation fuels and organic chemicals requires improved processes for their pre-treatment and conversion. This project proposes to develop an alternative, environmentally-benign process to utilise waste rice residues for the production of fuels and bio-derived agrochemicals, which will impact on renewable energy, climate change and environmental pollution by seeking to transform a plentiful waste resource into (1) an economically-viable, sustainable energy source for transportation fuels; and (2) a sustainable feedstock for the production of organic chemicals, while mitigating emissions of carbon dioxide and atmospheric particulates from "at-site" burning.

We will exploit recently-established demonstrator plant facilities at ICT-Mumbai in India (ICTM) which offer cost-effective waste rice residue fractionation into lignin and cellulose, with a focus on bioethanol production. Our aim is to develop underpinning science to offer a wider range of high-value products from lignin, sugars and other extracted components thereby future-proofing the process to combat the fragile economics of bioethanol production. We propose an innovative and flexible conversion platform building on current expertise of the UK partners. A multidisciplinary team with expertise in plant cell wall deconstruction and simultaneous saccharification (Institute of Food Research; IFR), green extraction methods (The VN-UK Institute, University of DaNang), enzyme expression, tandem bio- and chemo-catalytic conversion technologies (Aston), bio-chemo routes to depolymerising lignin (Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Min City), process engineering and catalysis (Ha Noi University of Science & Technology) and photocatalytic water depollution (Aston and The Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology) will tackle the challenge of value-added product production while also ensuring sustainable water management practices are adopted.

Enhanced research capacity in the Indian and Vietnamese institutes will be facilitated by interdisciplinary researcher training exchange visits to the partner research institutes at Aston and IFR, building a platform for sustainable agricultural waste management.

Technical Summary

This project will exploit waste rice residues in the production of chemicals by delivering the following aims:

1 - Waste rice residue pre-treatment processes will be investigated to enable extraction of rice bran oil and high-protein products from rice bran; fractionation of rice straw and husk; and assessment of downstream saccharification. Comparison of the economic and environmental viability of UK and LMIC processes will provide insight into how cellulose disruption, enzymatic saccharification and lignin quality is affected by treatment conditions and rice straw/husk composition.

2 - The production of malic acid (and derivatives) from glucose and the depolymerisation of lignin using enzymatic and catalytic cascades will be investigated. A "one pot" route to malic acid via the co-factor-balanced, consolidated action of 5 enzymes from thermophilic bacteria has been devised. Recombinant enzymes will be heterogenised for continuous operation via surface chemisorption or in-pore cross-linking approaches using macroporous supports. Heterogeneous catalysts for selective hydrogenation/hydrodeoxygenation/dehydration of malic acid to succinic, maleic or 2,4 dihydroxybutyric acids will be developed. For the latter, pore dimensions (exploiting confinement effects) and surface polarity will be explored to direct chemo-selectivity. Tandem chemo-biocatalytic exploitation of lignin will be investigated using immobilised enzymes that depolymerise lignin together with Ni-based chemo-catalytic aryl ether bond cleavage.

3 - Photo-catalysis will be employed for the remediation of low concentrations of organic pollutants in fermentation waste-water that will be pre-treated with duckweed. We will nano-engineer semiconductor photo-catalysts to enhance mineralisation of organic residues from fermentation broths to enable recycling of waste water in bio-catalytic processes.

Overall, the project will generate a sustainable biotechnological route to waste management in LMICs.

Planned Impact

This project will rapidly advance knowledge in the fundamental science and engineering of agricultural waste usage as a feedstock in biorefineries. Routes to cost-effective and sustainable biofuels and chemicals will contribute to the global transition to a low carbon economy.

Improved processing economics will result from the development of methods to extract high-value components from biomass. Processing steps that use state-of-the-art biotechnology to generate enzymatic systems for cascade bio-/chemo- catalytic transformations will underpin lignocellulosic biomass biorefining technology in the UK, India and Vietnam.

The consequences of chemical processes on the environment are a cause of increasing concern. There is a particular need to find sustainable, economically-viable routes to chemicals for a range of applications. The project will therefore benefit a wide range of stake-holders including the public, companies who are establishing low carbon processes in LMICs, scientists seeking employment in the UK, India and Vietnam, and the environment.

Research results will be implemented in the field in India and Vietnam to obtain data for a future techno-economic analysis of the process. The know-how of the resulting technologies will be transferred appropriately to Indian and Vietnamese partners, including academic researchers, industrial enterprises and farmers. The research capabilities of India and Vietnam will be enhanced significantly through the collaboration and capacity building exercises. Capacity building in the LMICs will result from exchange visits of PhD students, researchers and academic staff between India/Vietnam and UK research groups to better understand the challenge and stimulate knowledge transfer. The collaborations will facilitate (i) knowledge transfer at the interface of bio-/chemo- transformations and physics/engineering and (ii) provide young researchers in India and Vietnam with unrivalled access to expertise spanning the whole biorefining field.

Our published data on bio- and chemo-catalysis approaches to the synthesis of agrochemical intermediates will lead to the development of greener, more cost effective, safer products. This will be seen as a benefit by an increasingly demanding and well-informed customer base, who are aware of the impact on the environment. It will also benefit industrial stakeholders interested in low carbon chemicals who will have access to methodology to produce a range of new glucose-derived additives for use in commercial applications. A significant benefit of this project will be the production of malic acid derivatives for use as surfactants in agrochemical formulations; developing and expanding new markets for low carbon products has potential to create new jobs.

A key focus of the project is the development of new technology for the valorisation of agri-waste within India and Vietnam for sustainable agrochemical production. The partners have expertise in complementary skills spanning biomass characterisation, biochemistry and enzymatic conversion, materials synthesis and bioprocess
engineering. A series of approximately 6 month exchange visits from Indian and Vietnamese partners as well as return visits will be planned during the project for training of researchers in key skills as well as on-site development of processes. All these activities will ensure the lasting impact of the project and the sustainability of the resulting technologies. This will be further reinforced by the current partnership between Aston University and the University of DaNang with the creation of the new University VN-UK Institute for Research and Executive Education (IREE) which will act as a hub to support training activities.
 
Description Waste rice residues are a plentiful and largely untapped resource in Asian countries. They have potential to be converted to high-value products. Current "at-site" waste burning practices have serious, detrimental effects on the environment and human health. Our long term vision is to develop a sustainable waste bio-refining process, incorporating improved water management policies, to deliver improved standards of living and jobs in rural communities. We have developed a novel enzymatic cascade for the production of high value chemicals from waste products. This is of value to colleagues in India and Vietnam.

Working with our collaborators in India and Vietnam, we achieved the following outcomes.

We are writing up the study for publication and will host a student from Vietnam to work on this project. The original plan was amended on account of the pregnancy of the student and we are working on ways to support her visit when she returns from maternity leave, I have discussed this with colleagues at BBSRC.

We have finalized an animation that describes the context of our work, which is accessible to the public: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PEawtnMqtI&feature=emb_title. We worked with our LMIC colleagues in designing this animation.

We also have a Twitter account: https://twitter.com/capri_bio. Most recently, we tweeted about our animation.
Exploitation Route In the UK, the research contributed to two outcomes. One was Aston's successful involvement in the MIBTP2020 BBSRC DTP. The other was the award of Pathfinder grant BB/S004696/1. Both of these outcomes relied upon expertise in protein expression and purification of challenging proteins. We are also in contact with a company about a CASE studentship to develop some of the biocatalytic ideas developed in the project.

With respect to our partners, we had a particularly positive interaction with our Vietnamese partners and are planning to work with them on future projects. This is evidenced by a recent interaction with our colleagues at the University of Danang, one of whom sent this message:

"I have been collaborating with Prof. Roslyn Bill for 3 years now in a very interesting and important topic: application of molecular bioengineering for sustainable development. The collaboration has helped to improve the research capability of our Institute and opened exciting opportunities in research and real-life applications in Vietnam. Cross-border collaborations are not always easy, especially with far-off countries like Vietnam. But it can bring a lot of benefits to both sides. In addition, Prof. Roslyn Bill's group and supporting staff in Aston University are helpful to us. We determine to develop our collaboration with higher effectivity in the future".
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL https://twitter.com/capri_bio
 
Description Dr Prathamesh Wadekar (PW) of ICTM visited Aston University during December 2018. He was hosted by Dr Jai Lad (JL), Dr Jinesh Manyil and Dr Katie Chong. The objective of the visit was for PW to provide more information and to validate the techno-economic models developed of the ICTM process. PW has been involved in the design and development of the ICTM plant, so this was an important knowledge transfer activity. During his stay, PW learnt about the techno-economic modelling techniques used as Aston to develop these models. In addition to this, PW and JL developed an environmental assessment model of the plant that integrates with the techno-economic model and provides greenhouse gas emissions data for the process. JL visited PW in January and February of 2019. The objective of the trip was to visit the ICTM plant and see it in operation. This helped JL develop a deeper understanding of the process and improve the accuracy of the process models. The model will be used to help identify areas that require further optimization. Another objective of the trip was to share knowledge and expertise on techno-economic assessment of biorefinery plants. A planned visit from the University of Danang was postponed because of the pregnancy of the student involved. We are working to reschedule that visit when the student returns from maternity leave.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description 17-ERACoBioTech - MEmbrane Modulation for BiopRocess enhANcEment - MeMBrane
Amount £632,794 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/R02152X/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 04/2021
 
Description Aston University GCRF support fund
Amount £23,000 (GBP)
Organisation Aston University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 09/2019
 
Description COFUND PhD programme, MemTrain
Amount € 1,952,640 (EUR)
Funding ID 847419 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 05/2019 
End 04/2024
 
Description 'Sustainable green fuel and hydrocarbon production from non-food and waste Vietnamese Oil Seed Crops', British Council Newton Institutional Links 
Organisation Hanoi University
Country Viet Nam 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Colleagues have also worked on a British Council Newton Institutional Links with Vietnamese researchers from Hanoi. They have published the following outputs. The catalytic cracking of sterically challenging plastic feedstocks over high acid density Al-SBA-15 catalysts" Joseph Socci, Amin Osatiashtiani, Georgios Kyriakou, Tony Bridgwater Applied Catalysis A: General, 2019, 570, 218-227 Impact of Macroporosity on Catalytic Upgrading of Fast Pyrolysis Bio-Oil by Esterification over Silica Sulfonic Acids" Jinesh C. Manayil, Amin Osatiashtiani, Alvaro Mendoza, Christopher M.A. Parlett, Mark A. Isaacs, Lee J. Durndell, Chrysoula Michailof, Eleni Heracleous, Angelos Lappas, Adam F. Lee, Karen Wilson ChemSusChem 2017; 10(17):3506-3511 Monometallic and bimetallic catalysts based on Pd, Cu and Ni for hydrogen transfer deoxygenation of a prototypical fatty acid to diesel range hydrocarbons Kin Wai Cheah, Martin J. Taylor, Amin Osatiashtiani, Simon K. Beaumont, Daniel J. Nowakowski, Suzana Yusup, Anthony V. Bridgwater and Georgios Kyriakou CatalysisToday, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cattod.2019.03.017 Conferences; 1. Jinesh C. Manayil, Adam F. Lee, Karen Wilson, Talk on Mesoporous sulfonic acid silicas for pyrolysis bio-oil upgrading via acetic acid esterification, ABC-8, 8th International Symposium on Acid-Base Catalysis, 7-10th May 2017, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 2. Jinesh C. Manayil, Adam F. Lee, Karen Wilson, Talk on Inverse Gas Chromatography: A powerful tool to measure the surface hydrophobicity of catalysts employed in biomass conversion, GB3-Net Workshop, 11th May 2017, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 3. Jinesh C. Manayil, Invited talk on Rational design of heterogeneous catalysts for biomass transformations, SCI Materials Chemistry Young Scientist Sub Committee Meeting, March 2017, Aston University, Birmingham, UK.
Collaborator Contribution The British Council Newton Institutional Links grant is a partnership with the School of Chemical Engineering, Ha Noi University of Science and Technology.
Impact Colleagues have also worked on a British Council Newton Institutional Links with Vietnamese researchers from Hanoi. They have published the following outputs. The catalytic cracking of sterically challenging plastic feedstocks over high acid density Al-SBA-15 catalysts" Joseph Socci, Amin Osatiashtiani, Georgios Kyriakou, Tony Bridgwater Applied Catalysis A: General, 2019, 570, 218-227 Impact of Macroporosity on Catalytic Upgrading of Fast Pyrolysis Bio-Oil by Esterification over Silica Sulfonic Acids" Jinesh C. Manayil, Amin Osatiashtiani, Alvaro Mendoza, Christopher M.A. Parlett, Mark A. Isaacs, Lee J. Durndell, Chrysoula Michailof, Eleni Heracleous, Angelos Lappas, Adam F. Lee, Karen Wilson ChemSusChem 2017; 10(17):3506-3511 Monometallic and bimetallic catalysts based on Pd, Cu and Ni for hydrogen transfer deoxygenation of a prototypical fatty acid to diesel range hydrocarbons Kin Wai Cheah, Martin J. Taylor, Amin Osatiashtiani, Simon K. Beaumont, Daniel J. Nowakowski, Suzana Yusup, Anthony V. Bridgwater and Georgios Kyriakou CatalysisToday, Accepted, 08/03/2019 Conferences; 1. Jinesh C. Manayil, Adam F. Lee, Karen Wilson, Talk on Mesoporous sulfonic acid silicas for pyrolysis bio-oil upgrading via acetic acid esterification, ABC-8, 8th International Symposium on Acid-Base Catalysis, 7-10th May 2017, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 2. Jinesh C. Manayil, Adam F. Lee, Karen Wilson, Talk on Inverse Gas Chromatography: A powerful tool to measure the surface hydrophobicity of catalysts employed in biomass conversion, GB3-Net Workshop, 11th May 2017, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 3. Jinesh C. Manayil, Invited talk on Rational design of heterogeneous catalysts for biomass transformations, SCI Materials Chemistry Young Scientist Sub Committee Meeting, March 2017, Aston University, Birmingham, UK.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Creation of a public engagement animation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Waste rice residues are a plentiful and largely untapped resource in Asian countries. They have potential to be converted to high-value products. Current "at-site" waste burning practices have serious, detrimental effects on the environment and human health. Our long term vision is to develop a sustainable waste bio-refining process, incorporating improved water management policies, to deliver improved standards of living and jobs in rural communities. One of our impact objectives for this project was to engage the wider public in understanding the relevance of research into rice residue recycling in the context of overseas development aid.

We therefore created an animation describing the proposal in a way that is accessible to a lay audience. We created the video in collaboration with our colleagues in India and Vietnam. We are currently hosting the animation on our website so we can provide a link and also share it via social media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PEawtnMqtI&feature=emb_title.

So far it has been viewed over 50 times.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PEawtnMqtI&feature=emb_title
 
Description Final workshop in Da Nang, Vietnam 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A final workshop to discuss progress to date, future plans and to obtain feedback on a project animation showing the ODA benefits of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Project kick-off meeting in Mumbai 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A kick-off meeting where colleagues from the UK, India and Vietnam held discussions and established collaborative opportunities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017