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Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2007 Jun;18(3):213-9. Epub 2007 May 25.

Anaerobic fermentation of glycerol: a path to economic viability for the biofuels industry.

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  • 1Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, MS-362, Houston, TX 77005, USA.


Although biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol represent a secure, renewable and environmentally safe alternative to fossil fuels, their economic viability is a major concern. The implementation of biorefineries that co-produce higher value products along with biofuels has been proposed as a solution to this problem. The biorefinery model would be especially advantageous if the conversion of byproducts or waste streams generated during biofuel production were considered. Glycerol-rich streams generated in large amounts by the biofuels industry, especially during the production of biodiesel, present an excellent opportunity to establish biorefineries. Once considered a valuable 'co-product', crude glycerol is rapidly becoming a 'waste product' with a disposal cost attributed to it. Given the highly reduced nature of carbon in glycerol and the cost advantage of anaerobic processes, fermentative metabolism of glycerol is of special interest. This review covers the anaerobic fermentation of glycerol in microbes and the harnessing of this metabolic process to convert abundant and low-priced glycerol streams into higher value products, thus creating a path to viability for the biofuels industry. Special attention is given to products whose synthesis from glycerol would be advantageous when compared with their production from common sugars.

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