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Complementarities between Biotechnologies and Chemistry

Once biomass has been properly fractionated into cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignins, it is possible to develop of a whole family of biorefinery products within appropriate valorization chains.

In BIOCORE, the combined power of white biotechnology and chemistry will be deployed in order to develop a whole range of molecules that will target different market sectors.


A strong implication of white biotechnologies

The term “White biotechnology” describes the application of biotechnology for the environmentally-optimized manufacture of food ingredients, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, materials and energy vectors. It uses enzymes and micro-organisms as catalysts and, in most cases, renewable feedstocks, such as sugars and glycerol.

Regarding the biorefining of lignocelulosic biomass, white biotechnology faces a number of challenges. New, high performance enzymes are required to optimize the production of fermentable syrups from cellulose and hemicelluloses and new robust microorganisms, adapted for industrial applications, are required for fermentation processes. These microorganisms and their corresponding bioprocesses need to overcome bottlenecks such as the presence of inhibitors, the use of dilute sugar hydrolysates, challenges linked downstream product separation.


What chemicals could be produced with white biotechnologies?

- Organic acids

- Alkenes

- Glycoconjugates

- Alkylpolypentosides etc.


What will be achieved in BIOCORE?

State-of the art biotechnologies will be used to create microbes and enzyme-based processes to produce selected high impact chemicals for use as fuel, building blocks or as specialty chemicals.
Two major categories of products will be targeted:
  • chemicals for which the feasibility of the biotechnological route is established (e.g. ethanol, fumarate and xylitol)
  • chemicals for which innovation in biotechnology is needed (e.g. xylonate, glucarate, ethylene, isopropanol and alkylpolypentosides).

Based on sugar syrups (glucose and pentoses) coming from the fractionation step, the R&D in BIOCORE will be performed at two different levels.

1-      Work will deal with the improvement of process robustness and/or optimisation of the production conditions (e.g. fermentation of cellulosic glucose to ethanol)

2-      Work  aimed at developing new product opportunities (ethylene, glucaric and xylonic acid, isopropanol and alkylpentosides) will involve molecular biology, strain engineering, analysis of production bottle-necks and the search for optimal enzymes for metabolic engineering and in vitro enzymatic reactions.

Concerning the latter, the development of novel glycosynthetic enzymes will allow for both the synthesis of alkylpolypentosides and the production of tailored xylo-oligosaccharide mixtures. 


Targeted developments in chemical and thermochemical transformation routes 

Although the biological production of ethanol is most advanced, it is clear that biotechnology will not provide all of the solutions for biorefining (Ragauskas et al. 2006). Moreover, the clever combination and integration of biotechnologies and chemical processes will provide high performance, robust industrial manufacturing pipelines.

When dealing with complex and quite resistant material such as lignins, thermochemical technologies constitute viable alternatives to biotechnology. Similarly, heterogeneous catalysis, the well-established workhorse of the current chemical industry, holds much promise for the development of smart processes that will deal with certain biomass fractions.

In BIOCORE, chemistry in several forms, will form a key part of the thrust towards the development of a rich product portfolio. Thermochemistry and heterogeneous catalysis will be used to produce platform chemicals and polymer chemistry will be applied to the transformation of natural building blocks into industrial polymers.


Why target polymers?

A key feature of BIOCORE is its ambition to provide several polymer types. This is because forecasts indicate that bio-based polymers will constitute one of the most dynamic future markets for bio-based products. Similarly, it is clear that society is highly dependent upon bulk thermoplastic polymers, such as polyolefins PVC and polyurethanes. Therefore, it is vital that biorefineries develop bio-based polymers that respond to current manufacturer’s standards and market needs.

Nevertheless, much remains to be achieved in order to allow biomass fractions to be efficiently transformed into a wide range of polymers.


What will be achieved by BIOCORE?

BIOCORE will develop and adapt thermochemical and chemical catalysis for the production of key chemicals, which will serve as building blocks for the preparation of polyers, including polyurethanes, polyesters and thermoset resins.

  • Heterogenous catalysts will be developed for the direct conversion of cellulose into polyols and glycols.


  •  A variety of functionalized lignin-derivatives will be prepared by chemical methods.


  • An efficient synthetic route for the preparation of difurfuryl diisocyanates from C5 sugars will be established. Coupled to the use of other bio-based components derived from lignin, these crosslinking agents will allow the preparation of formol-free, 100% biobased polyurethane.


  •   A range of new formulations for wood panel resins, novel polymers and hydrogels, formed from organic acids, will be developed.


  •  Rigid and flexible polyurethane foams and resins will be synthesized using a wide variety of the bio-based building blocks that will be produced within the BIOCORE concept. The foams and resins will be especially suitable for packaging or flooring applications,

 The clever combination of chemistry and biotechnology will allow the development of cellulose to PVC value chain. This value chain will provide alternative products such as bio-ethanol and bio-polyethylene.