NBB honors Rice U. for glycerin research

By | April 26, 2010

Posted May 19, 2010

Escherichia coli-E. coli for short-is often identified as a bacterium that contributes to foodborne illness. But research led by a Rice University scientist has discovered ways to use a safe, non-pathogenic E. coli to convert glycerin into high value fuels and chemicals.

Ramon Gonzalez, William W. Akers Assistant Professor in the Departments of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Bioengineering at Rice University in Houston, also chair of Glycos Biotechnologies Inc.'s Scientific Advisory Board, received the 2010 Glycerin Innovation Award during the Annual Meeting & Expo of the American Oil Chemists' Society. The Award is sponsored annually by The Soap and Detergent Association and the National Biodiesel Board and administered by AOCS. Gonzalez was presented with a $5,000 honorarium and plaque for his work.

Gonzalez and his team of researchers identified the metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of E. coli to convert glycerin into ethanol. Glycerin is a byproduct of biodiesel production.

"The biodiesel process converts fats or oils into biodiesel and glycerin, with one pound of glycerin produced for every 10 pounds of biodiesel," said Steve Howell, NBB Technical Director. "Glycerin is a sustainable natural sugar, and it is necessary to remove all the glycerin in order to meet the stringent ASTM specifications for biodiesel."

The Rice researchers discovered innovative pathways and mechanisms that mediate glycerol fermentation in E. coli. That enabled their efforts to develop new technologies for converting glycerol into high-value chemicals. In essence, they designed strains of E. coli that could produce a range of products from biofuels, ethanol, hydrogen and organic acids.

These technologies are being licensed commercially so they can be brought to market.

The SDA/NBB Glycerin Innovation Award recognizes outstanding achievement for research into new applications for glycerin, with particular emphasis on commercial viability.

"Glycerin has an established market and biodiesel companies typically sell their glycerin to oleochemical companies who then refine the glycerin into pharmaceutical grade," said Howell. "Finding new, value added uses for sustainable glycerin will help improve biodiesel profitability and lower costs for the first commercial advanced biofuel-biodiesel."

The Award, which includes a plaque and a $5,000 honorarium, was presented by the AOCS Industrial Oil Products Division during the AOCS Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Az.

For more information on the honored research, contact Gonzalez at (713)-348-4893 or ramon.gonzalez@rice.edu.

SOURCE: NBB
 
 
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