STTR Phase I: Production of aromatic commodity chemicals via the coumalic acid platform using the catalyzed Diels-­‐Alder reaction in a continuous flow reactor

Period of Performance: 07/01/2016 - 06/30/2017


Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

SusTerea Biorenewables LLC
BRL Building 617 Bissell Rd
Ames, IA 50011
Firm POC, Principal Investigator

Research Institution

Iowa State University
1138 Pearson Hall
Ames, IA 50011
Institution POC


The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Technology Transfer Phase I project is the accelerated utilization of crop materials for the manufacture of biobased aromatic chemicals such as terephthalic acid and benzoic acid, which currently have global market value of $60 billion and $200 million, respectfully. This project focusses on benzoic acid (applications ranging from food additives to plasticizers) as the first commercial target to gain a market foothold and develop this technology. This technology will provide a biobased source for benzoic acid, which is currently produced almost exclusively from the oxidation of petrochemical toluene. Situated in Iowa, the epicenter of biomass production in the United States, SusTerea Biorenewables LLC can impact the rural economy, expand the utilization of crop materials beyond ethanol into the production of biobased chemicals. The technical objectives in this Phase I research project is development of the biobased coumalic acid platform, for producing an array of industrially important aromatic molecules. The technological basis for the project began with the identification by researcehers at the NSF Engineering Research Center, Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) of a chemical catalysis pathway to transform an industrially optimized fermentation product (malic acid) into coumalic acid and the discovery that coumalic acid could be used to produce an array of aromatics such as benzoic acid, terephthalic acid, and dimethyl terephthalate. Thus, coumalic acid has the potential to become a platform chemical opportunity in the burgeoning biorenewable chemical industry. First, the reaction conditions including temperature, pressure and solvent using an industrially relevant bench scale continuous flow reactor will be optimized. Second, new catalysts to substitute noble metals will be explored for the key aromatization step. Third, this experimental data will be used to construct a preliminary process design and a techno- economic model towards developing a scalable production technology.