SMARTBOX

Selective Modifications of ARomatics through Biocatalytic Oxidations

Summary

Oxidative enzymes have the potential to substantially improve the economic and environmental sustainability of biorefineries. However, enzyme-based processes rely on costly and relatively slow enzyme engineering technologies before the industrial implementation of the enzymatic processes can be considered. This has prevented their widespread uptake. The SMARTBOX project is designed to address this perception and to make oxidative biocatalysis an effective approach in biorefining.

SMARTBOX will develop an advanced computational engineering platform specifically for oxidative enzymes, capable of automatically screening for improved enzyme variants with a high degree of automation by using e.g. machine learning. This should reduce the time and costs associated with oxidative enzyme engineering by ten-fold compared to the current state of the art approaches.

Already during SMARTBOX, the platform is applied to make a number of biorefining processes more sustainable and to create new ways of valorising lignin and carbohydrates. In the long term, this will offer a significant economic opportunity for biorefineries and decrease their environmental impact.

Description

Objectives: 

The overall objective of SMARTBOX is to make biorefineries more cost-competitive and environmentally sustainable. Specifically, it will:

  • Create an enhanced platform for the computational engineering of oxidative enzymes. This will dramatically reduce the cost of developing biocatalysts. Using these custom-made biocatalysts will result in more environmentally-friendly processes and new ways of valorizing lignin and carbohydrates.
  • Scaling up a new biorefinery concept, based on Reductive Catalytic Fractionation and oxidative biocatalysis, to pilot level.
  • Producing FDCA and other HMF derivatives from HMF, using only one enzyme. This will substantially reduce the required processing steps as compared to current (bio)catalytic oxidation processes and reduce the associated energy consumption.
  • Producing a new bio-based building block for polycarbonates from hardwoods, thus increasing both the value of lignin and the profitability of hardwood biorefineries. This will establish a bio-based approach where none currently exists, and thus reduce greenhouse gas production.
  • Producing vanillin for the flavour and fragrance market from softwood in a two-fold higher yield than the state of the art. This will also increase the value of lignin and the profitability of softwood biorefineries. Again, it will reduce energy consumption, chemical waste and greenhouse gas production.
Expected impacts: 

The SMARTBOX project seeks to deliver the following impacts. It will:

  • Bring together six different companies from six different sectors in a new cross-sectoral space formed by biorefineries, the flavour and fragrance industry, the polycarbonate industry, and enzyme developers and the manufacturing industry in general.
  • Validate three new value chains on a pre-industrial scale; implementing a novel biorefinery approach based on Reductive Catalytic Fractionation and biocatalysis; reducing the processing steps by using RCF and applying only one enzyme per value chain; and improve vanillin yields from lignin. It will also create a completely new value chain, creating a new biobased building block for the polycarbonate industry.
  • Increase productivity across all value chains compared to current state-of-the-art processes, either by reducing production costs or by increasing productivity.