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Scaling Up a Biological Process for Manufacturing Malonic Acid

Company Name: Lygos, Inc.
Program Office: Bioenergy
Location: Emeryville, CA
Award Amount ($): $300,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): National Renewable Energy Laboratory/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Malonic acid is a building block chemical used across multiple industries such as electronics, medicine and fragrance production. Malonic acid and its derivatives are currently manufactured in China using expensive and hazardous processes, notably ones that rely on sodium cyanide, a highly toxic chemical that can pose significant environmental and health hazards. Lygos has developed technologies for producing malonic acid through fermentation instead, a biological process that uses sugar and water instead of toxic materials. At commercial volumes, the production process can be completed at significantly lower costs compared to current methods.

One challenge to commercializing this malonic acid technology is demonstrating the fermentation process at scale. Specifically, the performance metrics demonstrated at the bench-top scale of around 15 liters must be shown to be reproducible in pilot- and demonstration-scale fermentations of more than 1,000 liters. Another critical success factor for long-term sustainability is the ability to efficiently utilize biomass-derived sugars from non-food resources, such as corn stover or agricultural waste materials.

The fermentation vessels at the Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are well suited to scaling these production methods. The project will also use the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit, a new manufacturing demonstration facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to conduct necessary testing that can inform future operations and production plant design.

If successful, this project will help reduce risks associated with important aspects of biomass sugar utilization and integrated process scaling, accelerating the timeline for bringing the technology to market.


Lygos has invented the only known route to produce malonic acid from renewable biomass. The company estimates that this technology can completely replace the current, cyanide-based process if scaled, thus eliminating the need for toxic chemical use and associated pollution from petrochemical production across multiple industrial applications. Lygos' malonic acid technology would also lower the cost of production relative to the current petrochemical-based process.


Domestic Manufacturing:
The results of this project will assist Lygos in securing manufacturing capacity for commercial production of malonic acid as early as 2017.

New Products and Markets:
Beyond the current drop-in market for malonic acid, successful development of the technology could grow the U.S. malonates market to over $2.5 billion through expansion into polymers, adhesives, resins, solvents, and coatings.

Reduced Environmental Impact:
In addition to reducing the use of toxic chemicals in manufacturing, Lygos' technology is entirely based on biological processes. One commercial malonic acid plant producing 50 thousand metric tons of malonic acid would effectively prevent an estimated 63 thousand metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, an amount equivalent to removing 13,000 cars from American roads.

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