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USDA Scientists Win SDA/NBB Glycerine Innovation Award

June 23, 2008

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been awarded the 2008 Glycerine Innovation Award, sponsored by The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) and the National Biodiesel Board. The award was presented to Richard Ashby, Daniel Solaiman and Thomas Foglia at the 99th Annual Meeting of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, which was held May 18-21 in Seattle, WA.

The award, which includes a $5000 honorarium, recognizes outstanding achievement for research into new applications for glycerine, with particular emphasis on commercial viability.

Drs. Ashby, Solaiman and Foglia—who work at USDA’s Agriculture Research Service Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, PA—used a multidisciplinary approach to find new commercial uses for glycerine. By feeding glycerine to microbes, such as bacteria and yeasts, and allowing the microbes to use their natural genetic and enzymatic tools, they demonstrated that a number of value-added microbial products can be synthesized.

The team’s research focused on two classes of bioproducts: biosurfactants known as sophorolipids and bacterial polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). Each is produced from renewable resources and can be quickly biodegraded upon disposal.

The researchers found that sophorolipids can be produced in large quantities by using glycerol and/or other renewable feedstocks on which the organisms can grow. Also known to possess antimicrobial activity, sophorolipids are currently used in cosmeceutical applications and automatic dishwashing detergent formulations.

PHA polymers are currently used in many structural applications, including in such items as disposable razor handles and bottles, among others.

The ERRC team used crude glycerine, obtained from a biodiesel production plant, as the fermentation feedstock, thus alleviating the costly and energy-demanding downstream purification. In addition, the researchers found that the crude glycerine works better than pure glycerine to induce structurally distinct molecules for specific applications. More info:
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