Can Microbes Create Commodity Chemicals From Industrial Waste?

Can Microbes Create Commodity Chemicals From Industrial Waste?

For thousands of years, humans have manipulated single-celled microbes like certain bacteria to make products like alcohol and cheese, but with modern synthetic biology, microbes from waste gasses can be used to produce environmentally-friendly ethanol and other commodity chemicals. How does this work?

What are Microbes?

Microbes are small living organisms, unable to be seen without a microscope, that include bacteria and other single-celled organisms. They exist in just about any climate, like our bodies, in bread and the bottom of the ocean, and are able to consume everything from sunlight to nitrogen and sulfur.

What are Commodity Chemicals?

Also called “bulk commodities“ or “bulk chemicals,“ commodity chemicals are standardized forms of common chemicals produced in large quantities by any number of chemical companies. Unlike specialty chemicals which are more exclusive in their production and form, commodity chemicals are for general use and easier to attain.

What Kind of Microbes are Used?

With modern synthetic biotech, microbiologists can engineer certain microbes obtained from industrial waste gasses to create commodity chemicals.

Microbes like E. coli or yeast prove to be the most versatile and easy to use microbes to produce ethanol and other compounds, but the novel bacterium called C. auto could take its place as a more environmentally-friendly process. Obtained from places like garbage dumps and crop production plants, biotech company LanzaTech commercialized C. auto to yield an annual 90,000 tons of ethanol.

Further advances in biotech on the usage of microbes from industrial waste to reduce the environmental footprint of production plants could open the door to a vast number of commodity chemicals and other compounds in the future.

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