Toray produces bio-based adipic acid from inedible biomass

By Toray Industries Inc. | August 29, 2022

Toray Industries Inc. announced on August 24 that it has developed the world’s first 100% bio-based adipic acid, a raw material for nylon 66 (polyamide 66), from sugars derived from inedible biomass. This achievement is due to the use of a proprietary synthesis technique combining the company’s microbial fermentation technology and chemical purification technology that exploits separation membranes.

The company has begun to develop its capabilities in this area. It will test nylon 66 polymerization, develop production technology, conduct market research and take steps to commercialize applications for this bio-based adipic acid by around 2030.

Nylon 66 has been used for many years in fibers, resins and other applications due to its exceptionally durable, strong and stiff properties. Pressure to develop an environmentally friendly nylon 66 has increased in recent years amid growing awareness of the need to achieve a sustainable society. One challenge is that conventional chemical synthesis to produce adipic acid, the raw material for nylon 66, generates a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide.

Toray was the first in the world to discover microorganisms that produce an adipic acid intermediate from sugars. The company has reconfigured metabolic pathways within microorganisms to improve production efficiency by applying genetic engineering technology, which artificially recombines genes to streamline synthesis in microorganisms. He also used bioinformatics technologies to design optimal microbial fermentation pathways for synthesis. The amount of the intermediate synthesized by the microorganisms has increased more than 1,000 times since the initial discovery, and the efficiency of synthesis has improved significantly.

Toray uses reverse osmosis separation membranes to concentrate the intermediate in the purification process. This approach is more energy efficient than other methods that do not use these membranes.

This bio-adipic acid production technique is free of nitrous oxide emissions, unlike petroleum-derived adipic acid manufacturing processes, and is expected to help fight global warming.

Toray is developing a process for producing sugars from crop residues and other inedible plant resources. The sugars resulting from this process could be used as raw materials for biobased adipic acid. Toray would thus be able to create a total supply chain to manufacture chemicals from inedible biomass, helping to pave the way for a circular economy.

Toray’s success is partly attributed to joint research with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution. This effort is part of two projects the three partners are undertaking with funding from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization. The first project is “Development of techniques for the production of highly functional biomaterials using intelligent cells of plants and other organisms”, and the second ongoing project is “Development of a bio-based production technology to accelerate the recycling carbon”.

As part of the Toray Group’s sustainability vision, the company aims to help the global community pursue sustainable development by providing innovative technologies and advanced materials solutions. The new bio-adipic acid production technology is part of the Group’s desire to become carbon neutral by 2050 and should help the world meet the challenges of the circular economy.

Toray will continue to deliver solutions through innovative technologies and advanced materials for better, more diverse lifestyles and sustainable societies.

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