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Development of a Novel Bioprocess for Synthesizing and Purifying Adipic Acid

Company Name: ZymoChem
Program Office: Bioenergy
Location: Berkeley, CA
Email: Jon Kuchenreuther, CSO & Co-founder;
Award Amount: $200,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Adipic acid is a widely produced commodity chemical primarily used for the synthesis of nylon 6,6, polyesters, and polyurethanes, all of which go into making numerous everyday products such as carpets, automotive plastics, and food additives. Traditionally, adipic acid has been made from petroleum-based feedstocks using chemical processes that generate significant quantities of nitrous oxide, a regulated greenhouse gas ~300x more potent than CO2 toward global warming and ozone depletion.

ZymoChem is developing a novel bioprocess based on the company's unique carbon conserving (C2) technology to produce adipic acid via fermentation and from renewable sources of carbon such as biomass-derived sugars, offering a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option. Key attributes afforded by ZymoChem's C2 technology include high selectivity, anaerobic operation, and improved theoretical yields, as no feedstock carbon is lost as CO2 during chemical production. Together, these advantages create the opportunity for an adipic acid bioprocess with breakthrough economics, even in a low oil price environment.

One challenge for commercializing ZymoChem's adipic acid includes demonstrating the entire bioprocess in an integrated fashion wherein adipic acid is produced via controlled fermentations using industrially relevant biomass-derived feedstocks and subsequently purified to match industrial specifications. ZymoChem will work with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's state-of-the-art Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit to validate the adipic acid bioprocess at the 100 L scale. Successful demonstration of the bioprocess will be critical for guiding pilot-scale R&D as well as for de-risking the use of industrially relevant feedstocks and associated separation technologies to ensure that the bio-based adipic acid matches industrial specifications.


ZymoChem is developing a new bioprocess based on its unique C2 technology to produce adipic acid from renewable feedstocks. If successfully scaled up to the commercial level, ZymoChem's adipic acid bioprocess offers the chemical industry a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and potentially cost-competitive alternative to existing petroleum-based approaches for the production of adipic acid.


The results of this project will establish the commercial potential of ZymoChem's C2 technology for making commodity chemicals like adipic acid in a cost-advantaged manner. Notably, this project will also help establish commercial interest in producing the >20 chemicals targetable by ZymoChem's C2 technology, which collectively comprise a market value of >$20 billion per year.

Petroleum-based adipic acid processes account for ~10 percent of global anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions, wherein the production of adipic acid via ZymoChem's bioprocess and supplanting the state of the art would dramatically reduce these GHG emissions, potentially by ~10 million MT/yr.

Developing alternatives for petroleum-based chemical production will help the United States decrease its dependence on foreign oil while concurrently diversifying the use of domestically produced biomass.

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