BIOBASED POLYMERS FROM AGRICULTURAL BIOMASS
Location: Renewable Product Technology Research Unit
Project Number: 3620-41000-135-05
Start Date: Feb 01, 2010
End Date: Jan 31, 2014
Produce inexpensive biobased polymers from agricultural biomass using a simple fermentation process and test these polymers as renewable, biodegradable replacements for petroleum-based materials.
The mushroom Schizophyllum commune is a white rot fungus known to produce an array of enzymes needed to degrade biomass, including cellulase, xylanase and lignin-degrading enzymes. In the course of studies using this fungus to degrade agricultural biomass, we discovered that cultures also produced the biopolymer schizophyllan during degradation of corn fiber (Leathers, Nunnally, and Price, Biotechnol. Lett. 28:623-626, 2006). We developed a simple method to recover schizophyllan from residual biomass. An enriched arabinoxylan fraction was recovered as a coproduct of this process. Schizophyllan is commercially produced in Japan as a high-value pharmaceutical, specifically an immunotherapeutic agent for cancer treatment. However, the unique physical properties of the biopolymer suggest bulk applications. Claims exist for the use of schizophyllan in enhanced oil (petroleum) recovery. The high viscosity and thermal stability of solutions suggests further applications as a biobased replacement for petroleum-derived lubricants in specialty applications such as metalworking. However, to date only limited quantities of extremely expensive pharmaceutical-grade schizophyllan are available for testing. Similarly, current processes for isolation of corn fiber arabinoxylan are expensive. Corn fiber arabinoxylan also has a unique structure, and isolated corn fiber arabinoxylan gums are potentially valuable for numerous bulk industrial applications. Corn fiber gums can serve as adhesives, thickeners, stabilizers, film formers and emulsifiers. We propose to optimize and scale up production of crude schizophyllan and arabinoxylan polymers from abundant agricultural biomass, to provide material for bulk application testing. These materials will be tested as renewable, biodegradable replacements for petroleum-based materials.