Monash University engineers strategies for a sustainable biomanufacturing industry

biomanufacturing

A Monash University PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Wei Jiang, has published a review of the potential and challenges of carbon compound biomanufacturing in Nature Chemical Biology, in efforts to find more sustainable processes for the manufacturing industry. 

Biomanufacturing, a manufacturing process that uses biological matter to produce commercially important biomaterials and biomolecules, is used in applications for medicines, food and beverage processing and industrial purposes. 

Industrial biomanufacturing currently relies heavily on sugar-containing growth media such as glucose and sucrose, which are also used as foods. As biomanufacturing expands and accountability for sustainable practices increases, new compounds are required. 

While current methods of biomanufacturing using non-food sugar inputs are limited, researchers are reshaping industrial biomanufacturing and moving away from sugar-based options to find more sustainable alternatives. 

To do this, Jiang is supported by Monash University Department of Chemical Engineering associate professor Victoria Haritos and Imperial College London’s Dr Rodrigo Ledesma-Amaro. Using genetic engineering techniques, they are seeking to use manufacturing by-products – such as methane and carbon dioxide – and turning them into end products like vaccines, protein supplements, detergents and plastics. 

“Shifting the input ingredients to carbon compounds offers both an abundance and low cost, as some of these like carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide, are currently waste products from many industries,” Jiang said. 

“There are also additional environmental benefits such as the prevention of carbon into the atmosphere, slowing the impact of global warming.” 

Carbon compounds can either be naturally abundant, low-cost industrial by-products, or waste products that are widely available for use. 

“The exploitation of carbon as an alternative input ingredient for biomanufacturing can improve sustainability through the environmental benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and the reduced cost of production,” Haritos said. 

“Engineering of carbon-utilising pathways into high performing biotechnology hosts combines the productivity of industrial microorganisms that can take full advantage of carbon compounds.” 

The advances in synthetic biology, metabolic engineering and adaptive laboratory evolution have been key to developing synthetic carbon-utilising microbes. 

“Further research into this field will open up an opportunity to shift biomanufacturing from sugar-based carbon sources to a sustainable, abundant non-food carbon source with low cost,” Ledesma-Amaro said. 

Researchers hope that the future use of carbon will see the development of carbon-based biomanufacturing, where synthetic carbon utiliser microbes are mature biotechnological platforms for converting these elements to various fuel and chemical products with high commercial value. 

To view the research paper, visit https://go.nature.com/3BE2BXz 

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