Biobased production of succinic acid by Escherichia coli fermentation

Abstract: The prospects of peak oil, climate change and the dependency of fossil carbon have urged research and development of production methods for the manufacture of fuels and chemicals from renewable resources (biomass). The present thesis illustrates different aspects of biobased succinic acid production by a metabolically engineered E. coli strain. The main areas of the thesis are sugar utilisation and feedstock flexibility, and fermentation inhibition, both due to toxic compound derived from the raw material and the fermentation products themselves. The first part of this thesis aimed to investigate the fermentation characteristics of AFP184 in a medium consisting of corn steep liquor, inorganic salts and different sugar sources without supplementation with high-cost nutrients such as yeast extract and peptone. The effects of different sugars, sucrose, glucose, fructose, xylose, equal mixtures of glucose-fructose and glucose-xylose, on succinic acid production kinetics and yields in an industrially relevant medium were investigated. AFP184 was able to utilise all sugars and sugar combinations except sucrose for biomass generation and succinate production. Using glucose resulted in the highest yield, 0.83 (g succinic acid per g sugar consumed anaerobically). Using a high initial sugar concentration resulted in volumetric productivities of almost 3 g L-1 h-1, which is above estimated values for economically feasible production. However, succinic acid production ceased at final concentrations greater than 40 g L-1. To further increase succinic acid concentrations, fermentations using NH4OH, NaOH, KOH, K2CO3, and Na2CO3 as neutralising agents were performed and compared. It was shown that substantial improvements could be made by using alkali bases to neutralise the fermentations. The highest concentrations and productivities were achieved when Na2CO3 was used, 77 g L-1 and 3 g L-1 h-1 respectively. A gradual decrease in succinate productivity was observed during the fermentations, which was shown to be due to succinate accumulation in the broth and not as a result of the addition of neutralising agent or the subsequent increase in osmolarity. To maintain high succinate productivity by keeping a low extracellular succinic acid concentration fermentations were interrupted and cells recovered and resuspended in fresh media. By removing the succinate it was possible to maintain high succinic acid productivity for a prolonged time. Cells subjected to high concentrations of succinate were also able to regain high productivity once transferred into a succinate-free medium. In the last part of the thesis succinic acid production from softwood dilute acid hydrolysates was demonstrated. This study involved establishing the degree of detoxification necessary for growth and fermentation using industrial hydrolysates. Detoxification by treatment with lime and/or activated carbon was investigated and the results show that it was possible to produce succinate from softwood hydrolysates in yields comparable to those for synthetic sugars. The work done in this thesis increases the understanding of succinic acid production with AFP184, illustrate its limitations, and suggests improvements in the current technology with the long term aim of increasing the economical feasibility of biochemical succinic acid production.

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