SBIR Phase II: Novel enzymes for producing homogeneous preparations of individual, monounsaturated industrial fatty acids

Period of Performance: 05/01/2016 - 04/30/2018


Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

VariFAS Biorenewables LLC
4122 Biorenewable Research Lab Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
Firm POC, Principal Investigator


The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project is the development and scale-up of a manufacturing platform for producing bio-based chemicals for application in lubricants. This manufacturing platform will utilize biologically derived sugar carbon-source and transform this carbon to higher value products via microbial fermentation. In contrast to the complex mixture of fatty acids currently produced in the oleochemical industry, the technology developed in this project will deliver a product stream containing simpler mixtures of monounsaturated fatty acids, which will eliminate the costly separation cost and be directly used to synthesize cost-efficient high-performance lubricants. Due to the improved lubrication performance of these molecules, this technology will potentially increase the energy efficiency of industrial and transportation machinery. By utilizing biological carbon feedstocks and producing bio-degradable products, this technology has the potential to reduce the environment footprint of the lubricant industry. More beneficial impacts are anticipated as we expand the application of monounsaturated fatty acids into other industries, such as surfactants and polymers. A large commercial potential of this technology has been identified in the lubricant market, currently valued at $123B per annum, and predicted to grow to $178B per annum in the next 5-years. This SBIR Phase II project proposes to develop technology that will deliver novel bio-based monounsaturated fatty acids that provide new chemical structures allowing innovations in lubricants not possible from petroleum-based raw materials. Based on successful development of bacterial strains capable of producing enriched monounsaturated fatty acids in the Phase I project, the Phase II project will further de-risk the technology and scale up the capability to produce sufficient quantities of monounsaturated fatty acids to be evaluated by potential customers. By optimizing and scaling up the fermentation process and developing the product extraction procedure, large quantity of the first generation product (55% enriched monounsaturated fatty acids) will be produced. It will be used to chemically synthesize high-performance lubricants (i.e., polyol esters), whose physical-chemical and tribological properties will be evaluated and provided to potential customers. In this project, metabolic engineering, system biology, and evolutionary strategies will be applied to further improve the strains for producing second generation products that are more enriched in monounsaturated fatty acids (70-80%) and achieve commercial viable technology metrics. The monounsaturated fatty acids are envisioned as platform chemicals for subsequent chemical conversion to numerous specialty chemicals that have applications in additional markets, such as surfactants and polymers.