Sustainable production of industrial chemicals

Most industries in the world consume copious amounts of raw material derived from crude oil. The whole process uses a lot of energy as well as produce a lot of waste. A sustainable alternative would be to use biological processes catalyzed by enzymes. Enzymes are able to catalyze chemical reactions without the need for supplementary materials or solvents.

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Enzymes catalyzes reactions by providing a specific binding site for targeted reactant molecules which also stabilizes the reaction intermediate, providing an alternative reactive pathway with a lower activation energy. As compared to inorganic catalysts, ezymatic reactions take place at less extreme temperatures and pressures, with higher conversion rates. Around 90% of all chemical processes requires catalysts for better yield and conversion rates.

However, at its present costs, large scale enzymatic reactions are costlier than traditional methods and is economically less feasible. Researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a novel biomaterial which facilitates the use of enzymatic catalysts. Their findings can be found in the journal Angewandte Chemie (DOI: 201810331).

“In the long term, such biocatalytic materials are to be used in automatic production of value-added basic compounds without complex synthesis and cleaning steps and with a minimum amount of waste arising,” says Professor Christof Niemeyer of KIT’s Institute for Biological Interfaces.

Another added advantage of biocatalysts is the elimination of enantiomers, which are mirror image stereoisomers, which usually forms at a 50% rate when using chemical catalysts. This decreases the cost of production as it removes the need for another separation process of the undesirable enantiomer by-product. In some cases these enantiomers may even have adverse effects.

At present, this technology is in the early stages of development, and further experimentation is needed to fine tune the process When this technology becomes viable, shifts in the demand and supply of current chemicals are to be expected, with a ripple effect throughout the industry.

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