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Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013

WIST Research

Commercialization and technology transfer

Eric Singsaas, WIST director of research, was invited to provide an update on the institute's isoprene research at an international exhibition and conference, the Tire Technology Expo, in Cologne, Germany in February.

WIST has received inquiries from around the world in the past year regarding its patented lignin-solvent biomass separation process. In one case, the inquiry led to contract research and laboratory work for a West Coast pulp mill.

Isoprene

Eric Singsaas, director of research, and Justin Hall, instrumentation specialist, traveled to Washington state to evaluate waste streams at Cosmo Specialty Fibers with a view to determining the feasibility of creating value from that waste, such as fermentable sugars to make biofuels or valuable industrial chemicals such as isoprene or bioplastics.

The Tire Technology Expo is in its thirteenth year and bills itself as "the world's most important international gathering of tire manufacturing experts." For WIST, the event provided an opportunity to connect with tire engineers and tire WIST research associate Dr. Shona Duncan works with fermentation equipment to evaluate isoprene production by bacterial strains the institute is developing with research partners. industry executives. The institute's isoprene research has been largely funded by US government agencies to this point, including the Department of Defense, but WIST is looking toward industry investment to commercialize its technology. Isoprene is an important chemical used in manufacturing tires and is currently derived mainly from petroleum. But the tire industry is increasingly looking toward new, renewable materials for manufacture. Singsaas's presentation was titled "Renewable Isoprene Production by Biochemical Processing." He described two major advances WIST has made in the last year.

"We've made photosynthetic microbes that produce 80 times more isoprene than any previously published photosynthetic isoprene process," Singsaas said. Commercial development of these processes will generate licensing revenue for the UW system and WIST, and will create opportunities for Wisconsin industries, such as paper and pulp mills, to develop bio-based materials that access new markets.

"One is the development of low-cost sugars that are converted into isoprene by our microbes," he said. "This process was covered in the patent that was issued to us in 2012.”

Lignin polymers

Current research is focused on working with a new bacterial strain that the researchers believe will provide better results than the E. Coli which they had been using. The second area is in advances in photosynthetic isoprene, where Singsaas has been working with research partners at UWOshkosh to develop algae that use light energy to convert carbon dioxide directly into isoprene.

“We’re helping them find the best process for their mill,” Singsaas said. “We did several analyses to find the most economical use of their residuals.”

Justin Hall, WIST instrumentation specialist, takes a sample at a pulp mill. WIST is performing contract research and laboratory analysis to help determine economic feasibility of using the mill's waste streams to produce cellulosic sugars.

Dr. Shona Duncan checks results on fermentation samples.

WIST’s patented biomass separation process produces high-purity lignin in addition to cellulose and hemicelluloses. WIST is working with several collaborators to test applications for lignin, which could offer a number of advantages for the plastics industry. Singsaas noted that as a renewable material, lig-

Lignin polymer blends are shown in test samples, above. On left, injectionmolded windshield ice scrapers of lignin-polyethylene composites of various ratios up to 50 percent lignin.

Research continued next page

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Profile for Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Wistannualreportoct2013fec  

Sustainability in research, laboratory services and education; activities of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Wistannualreportoct2013fec  

Sustainability in research, laboratory services and education; activities of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

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