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Comment Processing & Handling

Enzyme engineering enables bio-based hydrogen peroxide

By Mary Page Bailey |

Borne out of a cancer research project at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge; www.mit.edu), a new enzymatic process technology can co-produce gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide without the safety risks and complexity of typical large-scale peroxide-manufacturing processes. Solugen Inc. (Houston; www.solugen.com) has engineered an enzyme that is extremely stable in the highly oxidizing environment required for H2O2 generation.

According to Sean Hunt, chief technology officer of Solugen, typical enzymes will rapidly denature in the presence of 0.1 wt.% H2O2, but Solugen’s enzyme can retain its stability and activity in 10 wt.% H2O2 for weeks at a time. “On the process technology side, we are making organic acids and co-producing hydrogen peroxide. No other process technology does that,” he adds. Since gluconic acid is typically produced in batch fermentation processes, Solugen’s continuous process brings additional economic benefits. Eventually, Solugen wants to further fine-tune its enzyme to co-produce acetic acid along with H2O2.

Hunt says that the enzyme can be mass produced, enabling rapid scaleup of the technology. The first iteration of the technology was a manual, 7-gal bubble-column reactor that underwent a tenfold scaleup to an automated pilot plant, which started up in April 2018. At the 100-ton/yr pilot plant, corn syrup is continuously converted into H2O2 and gluconic acid. “We ship out multiple totes per week of product from the pilot plant,” says Hunt. Now, Solugen is setting its sights on providing bio-peroxide for water-treatment applications in the upstream oil-and-gas sector with its first commercial plant. Located in Houston, the 10,000-ton/yr plant is slated to begin construction this summer, with completion expected in the first quarter of 2020.

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