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28th October 2015


Development of a Biotransformatic Route for Green Synthesis of Dibasic Acids

Enzymes can offer cost-effective manufacturing solutions across a range of industries, but how and where do you start if you have no experience with enzymes? This is exactly the problem that Chemoxy International Ltd, a speciality chemical manufacturing SME, was faced with in 2011. Three years on, Chemoxy are managing a second phase £700 K ($1120 K) commercialisation project. This case study covers the initial project that led to the award of the current grant.

The traditional route to one of Chemoxy’s products (for the coatings industry) was unsustainable due to declining availability of the substrate, despite a growing demand for the product. An alternative chemical route was identified using a waste stream from another product, but it was neither economically nor environmentally friendly. Although biocatalysis potentially held the answer, Chemoxy didn’t know where to start. A consortium comprising Chemoxy, Biocatalysts and Nzomics (the industry-facing biotransformation group at University of Northumbria) was formed with support from the Chemistry KTN, and a feasibility project to meet Chemoxy’s technical challenge was awarded through the TSB High Value Chemical Manufacturing competition.

The Project
The major project aims were to:

  • Identify an enzyme that would complete the desired transformation (Nzomics)
  • Develop a lab-scale biotransformation (Nzomics)
  • Optimise and scale-up production of the enzyme (Biocatalysts)
  • Provide sufficient enzyme for pilot-scale reactions (Biocatalysts)
  • Produce dibasic acids using a biocatalytic route at pilot-scale (Chemoxy)

Among the 30 candidate enzymes that were identified and produced by Nzomics, two were shown to complete the desired reaction. Our role was to take these enzymes and develop an industrial manufacturing process, supplying sufficient material for Chemoxy’s pilot scale reaction. Prior to producing enzyme material at an appropriate scale, we first transferred the small-scale production method into an industrial fed-batch fermentation. Using over 30 years of technical enzyme experience Biocatalysts have developed a proprietary combination of experimental design and microfermentation technology designed to maximise production levels of soluble, active enzyme. This approach enables us to produce enzymes efficiently in a way that facilitates scale-up further down the line, saving time, aiding earlier product launch and saving money in the later stages of the project. It took three months to complete this work, ensuring that the entire project was completed within its 9 month timeframe.

The Outputs

  • Successful biocatalytic transformation of waste stream to high value product.
  • Successful application and award of a two-year commercialisation project.
  • Successful introduction of biocatalysis into a traditional chemical manufacturer.
  • A panel of novel enzymes with applications across chemical and pharmaceutical industries (research quantities available through Nzomics, commercial volumes through Biocatalysts).

If you would like to explore the potential of enzymes and biocatalysis for your technical and commercial challenges, and don’t know where to start, please contact us to discuss the possibilities.