Biotechnology is defined as the application of the life sciences to chemical synthesis. This unit discusses its increasingly important role in the direct production of speciality chemicals via fermentation, such as citric acid, lactic acid, propane-1,3-diol and some amino acids.
With the exception of aminoethanoic acid (glycine), the industrially produced amino acids are chiral and the two isomers (D and L) have different properties in biologically induced reactions. However, chemical synthesis produces equimolar quantities of D- and L- forms and additional expensive steps are required to produce a pure stereoisomer. However, biotechnological routes have the great advantage of producing pure optically active amino acids.
Chunghwa Chemical Synthesis & Biotech Co Ltd, …
Petrochemicals are a finite resource which will become more expensive as oil becomes scarce, and their use is associated with the release of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Producing more chemicals using biotechnology could reduce our dependence on natural gas and oil and reduce the environmental impact of the chemical industry. Some chemicals, such as 2-hydroxypropane-1,2,3-tricarboxylic acid (citric acid), have for many years been routinely produced on the million-tonne scale using biotechnology, as the chemical synthetic routes are complex and expensive. Other notable examples are described in this unit but there are many other processes still in the developmental stage, with chemicals being produced in small reactors on the scale of a few tonnes. A huge amount of research is being done by chemists, biotechnologists and engineers to make these reactions more efficient and cost-effective.