Sunday, April 29, 2007

Biotechnology needs for conversion of renewable oils and fats to higher value products

Abhijeet P. Borole, Biosciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1-Bethel Valley Road, Bldg 1520, Rm 217, Oak Ridge, TN 37831

Conversion of natural oils and fats into value-added products presents a growing opportunity as biorefineries become a reality. While the volume of the products that can be obtained from the oil component of biomass may be low, the value this can add to overall biorefinery economics can be significant. The main products from oils and fats to date has been food products. There is a significant potential to develop new and novel non-food products from the oil and fats stream such as lubricants, varnishes, plasticizers, polymers, surfactants, cosmetic products as well as pharmaceutical intermediates.

Interdisciplinary research is needed at several levels to accomplish development of the biotechnology to commercialize the products. In addition to the development of the microbial and/or enzyme catalysts, development and testing of bioreactors, process schemes, and separations technologies for achieving desired products are also needed. 

This overview gives the current state of the available biocatalysts, with focus on desaturation-based routes, list potential microbial limitations, identify alternate biocatalyst hosts, and discuss the pros and cons of a microbial platform vs plant biotechnology to produce desired fatty acid/oil feedstocks and related products.