Engineering the convergence of chemistry and biology: resolving the incompatibility of bio- and chemical catalysis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


This project will develop new approaches to enable the transition from petrochemicals to the bio (renewable) feedstocks supply chain. The challenge is to obtain efficient production of synthetically useful chemicals from highly functionalized bulk feedstock materials, complex mixed feedstocks and new types of by-products. Biocatalytic transformations will be used to converge a large variety of feedstocks into a small number of building blocks for further synthesis, exploiting the excellent adaptability and selectivity of biocatalysts compared with chemical catalysts. These building block small molecules will be further effectively transformed using chemical catalysis into functional high-value products. Since it is not cost effective or practical to separate the biological products prior to chemical transformation, we shall develop novel reaction systems with fully integrated bio- and chemo-catalysis. There are very few examples of such reaction systems at present, due to the fundamental incompatibility between chemo- and biocatalysts in terms of operating conditions (temperature, salinity, solvents), and toxicity of small molecules to many biocatalysts. We shall solve this problem by spatial and temporal micro-separation of bio- and chemocatalytic systems such that both are operated within mutually compatible conditions, approaching the optimal conditions for both. This requires the design of new materials and reactor concepts, and modification of catalysts. This proof-of-principle project aims to demonstrate the developed concepts on the example of conversion of glucose and glycerol to 1,3-propanediol and lactic acid by whole cells, followed by a number of chemical transformations leading to esters, olefins, ethers, aldehydes, inter alia.


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Sotenko MV (2012) Tandem transformation of glycerol to esters. in Journal of biotechnology

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/E010571/1 02/10/2006 31/08/2009 £208,518
EP/E010571/2 Transfer EP/E010571/1 01/11/2009 30/06/2010 £57,613
Description This project aimed at developing fundamental concepts of hybrid processes that make use of bio and chemical catalysis at the same time. This is inherently complex due to vastly different optimal operating conditions for conventional chemical catalysts and typical bio-catalysts. The project succeeded in developing a hybrid tandem process that was using two forms of bio-catalysts: whole cells and free or immobilised enzymes. This demonstrated one of the two fundamental principles for chemo-bio hybrid processes: separation of the two systems in space, which allows to avoid using sub-optimal conditions. The use of two different forms of bio-catalysts allowed to link the reaction rates and operating conditions easier, than it would have been for the bio-chemo catalytic system. Our project partners have demonstrated a bio-chemo catalytic system using a specific reaction example.
Exploitation Route The basic need for bringing together chemical and bio- catalysis has been widely discussed in the scientific literature following this project. This has been adopted in the Catalysis Hub theme 5 (biocatalysis).
Sectors Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology