Researchers at the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) have developed a cost-effective way to produce succinic acid, an important industrial chemical, from sugarcane. They engineered a tough, acid-tolerant yeast to ferment the sugarcane, eliminating the need for costly downstream processing steps. Succinic acid is used in food, beverages, agriculture, and pharmaceutical products.

This breakthrough can also be applied to other organic acids targeted by CABBI in their work to develop sustainable biofuels and biochemicals from crops. The researchers used a yeast called Issatchenkia orientalis, which can survive in acidic conditions without the need for additives. Traditional microorganisms used for succinic acid production require a base to neutralize the acidity, resulting in higher costs.

The team also made genetic modifications to increase the production of succinic acid in I. orientalis. They successfully scaled up production using industrial equipment, achieving a high overall yield of 64%. The process demonstrated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuel-based production.

The researchers foresee many benefits of this breakthrough, including lower costs, reduced environmental impact, and increased use of renewable resources. They plan to conduct further scale-up studies for commercialization of the succinic acid production process. This work will also serve as a template for producing other organic acids using I. orientalis.

The project involved collaboration between multiple research teams within CABBI, including feedstock production, metabolic research, and economic and environmental analysis. The study was published in Nature Communications.

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