Improved Process to Create Renewable Chemicals from Plants

A University of Florida research team has developed a method to turn sugarcane bagasse - the crushed-stalk waste product of sugar production - into succinic acid that can be used to make pharmaceuticals, protective coatings, and compostable bags. The process uses no food crops or petroleum as raw materials, compared to most currently produced succinic acid. This research is part of a larger project led by Lonnie Ingram, a distinguished professor in the microbiology and cell science department. Previous accomplishments include genetically engineered E. coli strains that can produce fuel ethanol and ones that make lactic acid, which is used to create biodegradable and recyclable bioplastics. To achieve cost-effective succinic acid production using waste plant materials, the researchers had to make an E. coli strain tolerant to growth-stopping inhibitors. The newly engineered strain, called XW 136, produced more than 30 grams per liter of succinate using sugars derived from sugarcane bagasse.