Biocatalysis of ethylene to ethylene oxide

Derek Greenfield, Industrial Microbes, Emeryville, California, USA

Challenge area: Bio-based sources of ethylene

Genetically engineered bacterial strains could hold the key to sustainable EO production from ethylene, without the use of an EO plant. Industrial Microbes' work could lead to pioneering changes to how the compound is produced.

Using the reaction ethylene + O2 = ethylene oxide + H2O, mass yield from the reaction could increase 157% due to the addition of oxygen. The reaction takes place in water at room temperature, with either low or high pressure, making the method economical and sustainable.

In trials, the reaction will require electrons to be reduced (1 NADH per reaction) which can be achieved with low-cost methods, for example, oxidization of small amounts of glucose, glycerol or methane. Forecasts suggest a rapid process rate with close to 100% efficiency and selectivity.

The team designs and builds microorganisms, including industrial strains of bacteria and yeast to produce chemicals from natural gas and carbon dioxide. Their green, bio-based methods are more cost effective than sugar or oil, helping to make consumer goods cheaper.

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