Challenge: Increasing energy costs and environmental concerns have emphasized the need to produce sustainable renewable fuels. While microbial fermentation has been harnessed for producing ethanol and related alcohol biofuels biodiesel the major long chain fatty acid derived from plants has not yet reached the point were production by bacteria has become cost effective. Additionally excessive accumulation of glycerol as a byproduct is a major drawback of deriving biodiesel from plants. Biodiesel production produces over two million cubic meters of glycerol annually and a market glut of glycerol byproducts has led to a 67% decrease in glycerol prices in the US. Therefore there is increasing interest in developing uses for the excess glycerol now considered a waste product versus a valuable chemical. Solution: This technology makes use of engineered microbial strains to efficiently convert glycerol byproducts from current biodiesel production to free fatty acids which can be used directly as feedstock to produce more biodiesel. One added benefit to this technology is that free fatty acids are on the only major product making the integrated biodiesel production process more efficient. Free fatty acids can also be sold to the market or used as feedstocks for other chemical synthesis reactions. Market Potential / Applications: Biodiesel is a renewable and clean-burning diesel replacement that can be used in conventional diesel engines without modification. Under current production processes US biodiesel production is predicted to top 2 billion gallons by 2015. Global markets for biodiesel are entering a period of rapid growth and concerns for over feedstock availability are on the rise. This invention would improve upon current efficiency levels of biodiesel production without the need for new feedstock sources while utilizing a readily available byproduct from current biodiesel production. Development and Licensing Status: This invention is available for licensing from Rice University. This method has been used to demonstrate analytical-grade chemical production on a laboratory scale.
1) Conversion of glycerol waste to free fatty acids and biodiesel 2) Free fatty acids are on the only major product 3) Boosts current production efficiency of the biodiesel process