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ACHEMA Worldwide News 2/2014

Worldwide News DON’T MISS THIS CHANCE Biobased processes use a lot of the hardware their oil-based counterparts need and much more. ACHEMA is well versed in the BiobasedWorld, as it has been the meeting point for biotechnology and chemical engineering alike for a long time, so what better place to be if you want to probe the booming market. Ignacy Łukasiewicz looks mildly frustrated in his portrait that shows him sitting at his desk, a massive textbook in front of him and a distillation apparatus in the background. Perhaps he looks frustrated in the 1880s because he already has a foreboding that only 150 years later, his lifelong passion would be doomed. A trained pharmacist Łukasiewicz investi- a bit left in the natural reservoirs, we have to face the fact that we are using a finite resource. Shale gas may come to the rescue temporarily, but aside from environmental concerns it also comes with the clock ticking — mild frustration included. Microbial Solvent Production: Back to Weizmann’s Roots Bioeconomy can’t be attributed as easily to a single person, it cannot even be easily attributed to a certain period. Is Louis Pasteur the rightful hero as he produced butanol for the first time by biological means in 1861? Or is credit due to Charles Weizmann, who filed the patent for “production of acetone and alcohol by bacterial processes” in 1916? After all, the ABE (acetone, butanol, ethanol) fermentation was applied on a large scale during the first world war. At that time acetone was needed to produce the state-of-the-art smokeless explosive cordite. The process remained industrial standard well into the 1960s, when petrochemical methods for solvent production took over. Now history repeats itself and fermentative solvent production is one of the focal technologies for the production of biobased fuels. Perhaps it’s the microorganisms that are the true and timeless heroes of the bioeconomy. Many of today’s biorefineries are home to Clostridium species — the same bacteria Weizmann used for acetone production 100 years ago — or to baker’s and brewer’s yeasts. Granted, today’s biorefinery yeasts have only little in common with those you find in your daily bread and beer. Fine-tuning metabolic pathways by genetic engineering has turned the humble microorganisms into biological high-tech machinery with yields that Weizmann could only have dreamed of. Solvents and biofuels, especially ethanol, are the most prominent products of the biobased economy and probably also the most controversial. gated mineral oil in his native Poland for medicinal applications when he realized its potential for illumination. At that time whale blubber was the fuel of choice for oil lamps but the light was miserable, smelled awful and burned with a lot of soot. Łukasiewicz distilled mineral oil to kerosene but could not make it work in the traditional oil lamp therefore he invented the kerosene lamp. Thus he contributed to the first oil boom and is one of the pioneers of the oil based chemical industry. Nowadays, mineral oil is on the downgrade and even if there’s still quite 8 A special edition from PROCESS Picture: © gemeinfrei; © vvoe - Fotolia DR. MARLENE ETSCHMANN Ignacy Łukasiewicz, pioneer of the oil-based world M. Etschmann is Project Manager BiobasedWorld at DECHEMA Exhibitions.


ACHEMA Worldwide News 2/2014
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