The widely used chemical styrene is currently derived entirely from petroleum feedstocks, a dwindling resource. This chemical building block is most commonly used to produce polystyrene. Styrene production typically requires large quanitites of steam, making it one of the most energy-intensive bulk petrochemical production processes. In light of apparent sustainability and environmental concerns and the huge demand for styrene, a bio-based alternative is sought.
Researchers at the Arizona State University (ASU) believe that they have found a way towards a biologically-derived styrene monomer. According to lead researcher, Prof. David Nielsen, this was made possible by using the tools of metabolic engineering to develop the first ever “microbial chemical factory” for styrene biosynthesis. The group is experimenting with the engineering bacteria to serve as catalysts to produce styrene directly from renewable feedstocks such as glucose. This is a significant goal since nearly 60% of styrene’s global annual consumption currently supports the production of numerous conventional styrenic polymers and copolymers.
In his presentation at the BioPlastek 2012 Forum, Prof. Nielsen will provide an overview of the strain and process development research being conducted at ASU. The BioPlastek 2012 Forum will take place on March 28-30, 2012 at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel, in Arlington, Virginia, USA (near Washington, DC).
Also to be highlighted are the next steps involving further improving the bacteria and scaling up the process to where styrene yields can be produced from renewable resources in as economically viable a way as styrene made from petroleum.