Leverage recent DOE investments in synthetic biology and materials science to develop a Center focused on unique high performance polymers derived from microbially-produced monomers.
Over the last 10 years, DOE Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Division has invested heavily in the development of synthetic biology tools while a broader community has questioned the limits of biosynthesis in terms of both molecular sophistication (for high value targets) and scale (for biofuels). Polymers are a unique target as the largest revenue segment of the commodity chemicals market at about 33 percent of the basic chemicals dollar value. More importantly, monomers represent a class of chemicals where the sophistication of biology in making unique asymmetric and chiral structures can be utilized to design materials with superior properties. Consumer-facing companies are seeking to offer products and packaging that can be seen and advertised as “sustainable” or “green,” while chemical and materials companies that supply polymer resins, coatings, adhesives, and packages to these companies - their customers - would like to provide a broad range of sustainable offerings.
This Challenge Grant will exploit the powerful new tools of synthetic biology to create building blocks from sugar sources that are unique and inaccessible via conventional synthetic routes. These building blocks will then be used in homopolymerizations, copolymerizations or to modify existing materials leading to thermoplastic and thermoset polymer resins with improved and/or new performance. A team combining expertise in synthetic biology with polymer synthesis, characterization, theory, and critically, process design and economics will tackle this problem and apply for DOE and NSF funding.