Styrene, a component of many rubber products, is currently synthesized from petroleum in a highly energy-intensive process. The Nielsen Laboratory at Arizona State has demonstrated a biochemical pathway by which E. coli can be engineered to produce styrene from the amino acid phenylalanine, which E. coli naturally synthesizes from glucose. However, styrene becomes toxic to E. coli above concentrations of 300 mg/L, severely limiting the large-scale applicability of the pathway. Thus, styrene must somehow be continuously removed from the system to facilitate higher yields and for the purposes of scale-up. The separation methods of pervaporation and solvent extraction were investigated to this end. Furthermore, the styrene pathway was extended by one step to produce styrene oxide, which is less volatile than styrene and theoretically simpler to recover. Adsorption of styrene oxide using the hydrophobic resin L-493 was attempted in order to improve the yield of styrene oxide and to provide additional proof of concept that the flux through the styrene pathway can be increased. The maximum styrene titer achieved was 1.2 g/L using the method of solvent extraction, but this yield was only possible when additional phenylalanine was supplemented to the system.
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