Genomatica Announces Breakthroughs in Bio-Manufacturing

Does “1,4 butanediol” ring any bells for you? Unless you’re a chemist, it probably doesn’t. But this compound is used in making many of the plastics and fibers that we use every day. This important building block of modern-day materials is created from petroleum-derived material. Aside from making it a non-renewable resource, this also makes the cost of 1,4 butanediol highly volatile, since it fluctuates with the cost of oil. But San Diego startup Genomatica aims to change all that; it has developed a means of using sugars and bacteria to create this common industrial chemical.
The company, which announced its discovery last fall, says it has now refined its processing system and is ready to begin producing commercial grade BDO. It also announced that it plans on taking its process out of the lab and into a demonstration facility that will begin churning out the chemical next year. The company has also shown that it can increase the concentrations of bacteria needed to ferment and purify 1,4 butanediol in large quantities, which will allow it to compete with makers of petroleum-based 1,4 butanediol in terms of scale.

Sucrose is likely the feedstock that the firm will use to produce 1,4 butanediol (also know as BDO), because the sugar is readily available, according to the company.
But Genomatica has shown that it can use other types of sugars, as well. This, it says, is an important step in opening up the manufacturing process to include other feedstocks. According to a statement from the firm: “The ability to produce BDO from both six and five carbon sugars now opens the way to possible second‚Äêgeneration BDO processes that use carbohydrates derived from lignocellulosic biomass, such as wood residue, municipal paper waste, agricultural waste or energy crops like switchgrass.”
Genomatica is also working to create many other common chemicals using renewable ingredients.
The company’s efforts are boosted in California, where late last year Governor Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1879 and Senate Bill 509, two laws that are part of California’s Green Chemistry Initiative, which is focused on supporting innovations in green chemistry.
The laws, which are being shaped and administered through the help of a
public wiki, are designed to authorize California state government to seek means for replacing harmful and toxic substances with more sustainable and safer ones.
Businesses developing green chemicals may also soon see an ally at the federal level. President Obama has nominated Paul T. Anastas, widely known as the father of green chemistry, to head the U.S. EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Anastas is a Yale professor and the director of the school’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to

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