Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have developed a sustainable method to make one of the most sought after chemicals in the world, adipic acid which is the main component in Nylon.
The production of this acid is highly dependent on fossil fuels and large amounts of nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).
The research team has managed to genetically code the common bacteria E.coli in a lab to find a more sustainable production process.
The genetically modified cells were grown in a liquid solution that contained a naturally occurring chemical called guaiacol. Guaiacol is the main compound that gives plants their shape.
Once the 24hr incubation period came to a conclusion the bacteria had transformed guaiacol into adipic acid, without the production of nitrous oxide. The scientists believe that the same approach could be used on an industry scale with sufficient financial backing.
Jack Suitor, a Ph.D. student at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences who is also the lead author stated that he was extremely excited by the results. He said that it was the first time that adipic acid has been made directly from guaiacol which is one of the largest untapped renewable resources on the planet. He believes that this could revolutionize the way nylon is made.
Over two million tonnes of nylon is used to make clothes, furniture and parachutes. Nylon has a market value of over $6.5 billion in production each year globally.
Dr. Stephen Wallace, Principle Investigator of the study, said microbes could help solve many other problems facing society. He further said that bacteria could be programmed to help make nylon from plant waste which could not have been achieved using traditional chemical methods. He concluded stating that we must ask ourselves what else we could do and where the limits lie.