Fermenter used in the scale-up of malonic acid.| Photo courtesy of Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab

Researchers at Lygos, Inc., an industrial biotechnology company, achieved a critical breakthrough in the cleaner production of malonic acid, a valuable chemical used to manufacture many products, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, and specialty materials. More than a decade ago, a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy identified malonic acid as one of the top 30 value-added chemicals to be produced from biomass-derived sugar. To date, its production has relied on a petrochemical process that is costly and environmentally hazardous. The new manufacturing technology produces malonic acid from sugar—a cost- and energy-efficient process that could replace the existing petroleum production of malonic acid, decrease CO2 emissions, and eliminate toxic inputs.

"This is an exciting achievement for our team—it's the first time malonic acid has been produced in meaningful quantities from renewable materials instead of petroleum,” said Lygos CEO Dr. Eric Steen in the company’s press release. “With this manufacturing run, we are able to provide samples of high-quality malonic acid to customers and partners. As we move forward with commercialization, we're seeking additional partners to accelerate larger scale manufacturing and unlock new product applications."

The pilot-scale manufacturing was completed in the research phase of a program funded in part by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). Lygos, Inc. performed scale-up production in the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A state-of-the-art research facility, the ABPDU is available to industry, national laboratories, and academia for the demonstration of biomass production processes.

BETO’s Biochemical Conversion Technology Area—along with its other technology areas across the biomass supply chain—aims to find cost-effective pathways to sustainably produce biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower, and reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil.