SBIR Phase II: Efficient Production of a High Performance and Eco-Friendly Superabsorbent Microbial Biopolymer for Hygiene Applications

Period of Performance: 03/15/2017 - 02/28/2019

$750K

Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Ecovia Renewables L.L.C.
600 South Wagner Road Suite 15
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Firm POC, Principal Investigator

Abstract

The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research Phase II project includes tremendous commercial potential, societal benefits, and scientific advances. Conventional superabsorbent polymers (SAP) are based on polyacrylates or polyacrylamides derived from petroleum feedstock. They are widely used in the absorbent cores of hygiene products, with disposable diapers representing approximately 85% of the global SAP market of $6B. Increasing consumer and supply chain demand for more natural, sustainable materials and products has driven the development of eco-friendly / natural labeled absorbent hygiene products (AHP). Eco-friendly diaper products currently make up about 3% of the global market and are experiencing strong growth at 10-15% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). This project will lead to the commercialization of a low-cost high-performance biobased SAP, offering significant environmental benefits as a more sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to petrobased SAP. This project could also generate positive economic impacts on domestic agriculture by creating new demand for bio-feedstocks such as waste glycerol. Finally, this project advances the scientific and technological state-of-the-art by developing a new bioprocess based on microbial co-cultures that could be extended to render more efficient, cost-effective routes for producing other biobased fuels and chemicals. The objectives of this Phase II research project are to develop a new biological route, based on microbial co-cultures, for cost-effective production of gamma-polyglutamic acid (PGA) and to commercialize cross-linked PGA SAP for AHP applications. In Phase I of this project, a microbial co-culture process was developed for efficient production of PGA via in-situ precursor production (ISPP) from low-cost bio-feedstocks. materials. Building on promising results in Phase I, further R&D will aim to reach pilot-scale production by the end of Phase II. Three specific technical objectives will be pursued: Objective 1: Strain engineering and bioprocess optimization to develop an ISPP fermentation process with commercially viable performance metrics. Objective 2: Optimization of downstream purification, SAP cross-linking, and finishing to produce a high performance finished PGA SAP product. Objective 3: Pilot-scale process demonstration to produce commercial quantities of PGA SAP for large scale customer/partner trials. This R&D plan will lead to transformative technological outcomes. The proposed process based on microbial co-cultures represents a distinct shift from the conventional paradigm of utilizing single-species monocultures for bioprocessing and offers substantial cost-savings. The engineering and process development strategies developed during this project will be transferrable for a broad range of other co-culture bioprocessing applications.