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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


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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