Team:Alberta-North-RBI E/Project


Create a Website

Upcycled Aromatics - The Idea

Executive Summary

New developments in synthetic biology have allowed scientists to explore innovative ways of producing important, high-value chemicals from what was once seen as industrial waste. Paper mills and recycling plants, as a byproduct of their operation, produce a waste sludge composed of paper fibres too short for further processing. As this waste is seen as having negative value (requiring money to be disposed of), this is an attractive source of exploitable cellulose. On the other end, aromatics represent a potentially lucrative chemical endpoint, having high price per unit mass and a wide variety of applications as feedstocks in a number of industries. Where others see waste, we at Upcycled Aromatics see opportunity. Our mission is to fill the demand for vital, high-value aromatic chemicals by implementing an innovative and green process based on the principles of synthetic biology.

Our proposed process has two parts: in the first, cellulose from waste sludge from recycling plants is converted into glucose; in the second, glucose from the first part is used as a feedstock for the biosynthesis of aromatic chemicals from genetically engineered bacteria.

In the glucose to aromatics conversion, we plan to use a single metabolic pathway in the biosynthesis of our product, with “on/off genetic switches” at each “step” in the process. This gives us the freedom to produce a variety of compounds as end products. The current proposed pathway will allow us to produce shikimic acid, cinnamic acid or 4-hydroxycinnamic acid, depending on the market demand for each product.

Shikimic acid, cinnamic acid and its derivative are high-value, high-demand chemicals with steady markets and high potential for growth. Current commercial production of shikimic acid is performed by extraction from Chinese star anise and is effectively monopolized. As was seen from recent shortages in 2005 - which led to shortage in the anti-viral drug Tamiflu® - it is also highly susceptible to the effects of a bad harvest. Meanwhile, cinnamic acid, an important precursor in the production of sweeteners and many pharmaceuticals, is produced mainly from the petrochemical industry and requires potentially harmful and polluting organic solvents. 4-hydroxycinnamic acid is a derivate of cinnamic acid and can be used for a variety of applications, including as a building block for materials and other chemicals. Upcycled Aromatics, with its innovative syn-bio approach, can provide a reliable and green source of these vital compounds, produced from a feedstock which is essentially free and for which there is minimal competition.

Once we have assembled the conditions to go-ahead for commercial scale-up, we plan to install our first plant directly downstream of a recycling facility. This will minimize transportation costs of the sludge, allowing us to spend money saved on the cellulose to glucose conversion. Eventually, we hope to move towards a model with centralized production and an extensive distribution network to move goods to and from our suppliers and our own plants.

The management of the company will consist of the current members of the University of Alberta iGEM Entrepreneurial team. With our extensive backgrounds in biochemistry, chemical engineering and genetics, we as a team have the knowledge and the skillset to make Upcycled Aromatics a success. Furthermore, we have also assembled a board of advisors that will provide us with the scientific and business expertise as we move forward. They include Dr. Chris Dambrowitz, who has had managerial experience with MDS Sciex (now AB Sciex), Blue Heron Biotechnology (Bothell WA), Visible Genetics (Toronto ON) and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (Chalk River ON); Dr. Dominic Sauvageau, who is doing research for the development of bioprocessing strategies in microbes and has been involved with the start-up company Laborium Biopharma; Dr. Anthony Briggs of the University of Alberta School of Business, who holds a M.S. from MIT Sloan and is an expert in strategic development and organization and on the intellectual property in biotechnology; and Erin Dul, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta with extensive knowledge in genetics, processing and a former winner of the iGEM competition with the Butanerds (2007).

Follow Us

Contact Us