Monday, June 8, 2009

Spandex! Spandex!

This is a busy day so posting will be tad light. Here's what lab rats are doing with E. coli...

A company called Genomatica, based in San Diego, says that it can make the key ingredient in spandex from sugar, and do so at a cost that competes with current chemical processes, which use fossil fuels. It has developed genetically engineered E. coli bacteria that excrete a chemical called 1,4-butanediol, or BDO, which is used to make a number of products, including textiles, car parts, and pharmaceuticals.

The company announced that it has demonstrated a proprietary process that allows it to produce the BDO at greater than 99 percent purity, a technical milestone that clears the way for the one-ton-per-day demonstration plant that it plans to build next year. (Total worldwide production of BDO is about 1.5 million tons.) The company also reported increasing the productivity of the bacteria to a level that it says is near what's needed to compete with petroleum and natural-gas-based processes.

Christophe Schilling, Genomatica's CEO, says that its process will reduce energy use for making the chemical by about 30 percent. It will also decouple its cost from the cost of fossil fuels. He predicts that the company's process will cost 25 percent less than conventional methods used to make BDO, provided the price of oil stays above $40 to $50 a barrel and the cost of sugar is about 10 to 12 cents a pound.


Pierce predicts that the next 15 years will see a significant shift toward using biological processes to make chemical intermediates, as fossil fuels become more expensive. "Historically, petroleum has been cheaper [than sugar]--that's why we've had a petroleum age," he says. "It's been the place everyone goes to get cheap raw materials. We're in a period of transition now, where it's becoming more and more frequent that it's cheaper to do a biological process."

- Brewskie


  1. Finally! I have been waiting for edible underwear. B Cole

  2. I always knew that this would happen someday. I've been involved in the biology field for a few years now and was wondering when this would finally be done. My only drawback as to it alleviating oil demands is that all the equipment in a cell lab (in which I have worked before) is made from oil products, but of could be substituted by bioplastics someday. Also, the growth media has its roots in oil too, including types of antibiotics and certain nutrients. When they figure that one out, it'll be golden.


  3. B. Cole,

    Perhaps they can get into lingerie next. Oprah's next target will be Victoria's Secret!


    Transportation commands two-thirds of US oil consumption. Solve this dilemma and there will be plenty of oil for lab equipment or cheap plastic trash at Wal-Mart; though using substitutes to make plastics is not only the noble thing to do, it's the technologically enlightened path to pursue.

    Keep up the good work!