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Team Led by Indian-Origin Scientist Converts Plant Matter Into Chemicals

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A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.
Lignin, a tough plant matter, is converted into chemicals. Pixabay

A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.

The technology converts tough plant matter, called lignin, for wider use of the energy source and making it cost competitive.

“For years, we have been researching cost-effective ways to break down lignin and convert it into valuable platform chemicals,” Sandia bioengineer Seema Singh said.

“We applied our understanding of natural lignin degraders to E. coli because that bacterium grows fast and can survive harsh industrial processes,” she added in the work published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America”.

Lignin is the component of plant cell walls that gives them their incredible strength. It is brimming with energy but getting to that energy is so costly and complex that the resulting biofuel can’t compete economically with other forms of transportation energy.

A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.
Scientists successfully convert plant matter into chemicals. Pixabay

Once broken down, lignin has other gifts to give in the form of valuable platform chemicals that can be converted into nylon, plastics, pharmaceuticals and other valuable products.

Singh and her team have solved three problems with turning lignin into platform chemicals: cost, toxicity and speed.

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Engineering solutions like these, which overcome toxicity and efficiency issues have the potential to make biofuel production economically viable.

“Now we can work on producing greater quantities of platform chemicals, engineering pathways to new end products, and considering microbial hosts other than E. coli,” Singh (IANS)

Next Story

This New Material Can Capture Pollutants And Convert Them Into Useful Industrial Chemicals

New material turns toxic air pollutants into industrial chemicals

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Industrial chemicals
The metal-organic framework (MOF) material can convert pollutants into industrial chemicals. Pixabay

An international team of scientists has developed a new material that can capture a toxic pollutant produced by burning fossil fuels and convert it into useful industrial chemicals using only water and air.

The technology could lead to air pollution control and help remedy the negative impact nitrogen dioxide has on the environment.

The metal-organic framework (MOF) material provides a selective, fully reversible and repeatable capability to capture nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic air pollutant produced particularly by diesel and bio-fuel use, said the study published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

The NO2 can then be easily converted into nitric acid, a multi-billion dollar industry with uses including, agricultural fertiliser for crops; rocket propellant and nylon.

MOFs are tiny three-dimensional structures which are porous and can trap gasses inside, acting like cages.

“This is the first MOF to both capture and convert a toxic, gaseous air pollutant into a useful industrial commodity,” said Sihai Yang, a lead author and a senior lecturer at University of Manchester in Britain.

Pollutants into industrial chemicals
MOFs are tiny three-dimensional structures which can trap gasses inside and convert them into idustrial chemicals. Pixabay

“It is also interesting that the highest rate of nitrogen dioxide uptake by this MOF occurs at around 45 degrees Centigrade, which is about the temperature of automobile exhausts.”

The material, named MFM-520, can capture nitrogen dioxide at ambient pressures and temperatures — even at low concentrations and during flow — in the presence of moisture, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, said the study.

The highly efficient mechanism in this new MOF was characterised by researchers using neutron scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Berkeley National Laboratory, respectively.

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The team also used the National Service for Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopy at Manchester to study the mechanism of adsorption of nitrogen dioxide in MFM-520.

“The global market for nitric acid in 2016 was $2.5 billion, so there is a lot of potential for manufacturers of this MOF technology to recoup their costs and profit from the resulting nitric acid production. Especially since the only additives required are water and air,” Martin Schroder, Professor at University of Manchester. (IANS)