Genomatica Gets EPA Green Chemistry Award

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today gave its Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in five categories, including one to San Diego’s Genomatica, a startup industrial biotech using genetically engineered microbes to produce intermediate chemicals.

Genomatica has engineered a bacterium that consumes sugars in a fermentation tank to make 1,4-Butanediol (BDO), a “building block” chemical needed to make spandex and plastic that was previously produced only in industrial petrochemical plants. The EPA says that Genomatica’s “Bio-BDO,” when produced at commercial scale, will be less expensive, require about 60 percent less energy to produce, and generate 70 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than conventional BDO made from natural gas.

In naming Genomatica, the judges (an independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute) broke with tradition and moved Genomatica from the small business category into the “greener synthetic pathways” category, according to a statement from the company. Last year’s award in the same category went to technology developed jointly by BASF and Dow; other winners have included Eastman Chemical Co., Archer, Daniels Midland, and Monsanto.

Genomatica production facility

The EPA created the green chemistry awards 16 years ago to recognize chemistry that prevents pollution, uses cleaner processes and safer raw materials, reduces costs, and produces safer, better products.

The EPA also bestowed its green chemistry awards on: U.C. Santa Barbara scientist Bruce Lipshutz for developing new chemical processes that eliminate or reduce solvents; BioAmber of Plymouth, MN, for developing a new bio-industrial process to make succinic acid; Krayton Performance Polymers of Houston, TX, to develop a process for using less solvent to make reverse osmosis membranes; and Sherwin-Williams of Cleveland, OH, for developing water-based acrylic alkyd paints with low volatile organic compounds.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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