New insights and novel developments in clostridial acetone/butanol/isopropanol fermentation
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Clostridial acetone/butanol fermentation used to rank second only to ethanol fermentation by yeast in its scale of production and thus is one of the largest biotechnological processes known. Its decline since about 1950 has been caused by increasing substrate costs and the availability of much cheaper feedstocks for chemical solvent synthesis by the petrochemical industry. The so-called oil crisis in 1973 led to renewed interest in novel fermentation and product recovery technologies as well as in the metabolism and genetics of the bacterial species involved. As a consequence, almost all of the enzymes leading to solvent formation are known, their genes have been sequenced (in fact, Clostridium acetobutylicum has been recently included in the microbial genome sequencing project), the regulatory mechanisms controlling solventogenesis have begun to emerge and recombinant DNA techniques have been developed for these clostridia to construct specific production strains. In parallel, cheap agricultural-waste-based feedstocks have been exploited for their potential as novel substrates, continuous culture methods have been successfully established and new on-line product recovery technologies are now available, such as gas stripping, liquid/liquid extraction, and membrane-based methods. In combination with these achievements, a reintroduction of acetone/butanol fermentation on an industrial scale seems to be economically feasible, a view that is supported by a new pilot plant in Austria recently coming into operation.
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