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Janus Louw, Speaker at Catalysis Conferences
Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Title : Economic and environmental benefits of bioprocess improvements for the production of 2,3-butanediol and adipic acid in a sugarcane biorefinery


The production of bio-based chemicals in a biorefinery is a critical component for a sustainable bioeconomy, with reduced dependency on fossil fuel resources. Although, bio-based chemicals such as 2,3-butanediol (2,3-BDO) and adipic acid are  avid produced through microbial conversion of sugars, typically offer substantial environmental benefits compared to fossil-derived products, their application is limited by production costs, warranting further improvements to microbes and bioprocesses. The financial and environmental benefits that could be obtained from improvements to microbial strain and bioprocess development, within the theoretical limits of these sugar conversions, were assessed through a 32 full-factorial design (FFD), considering the impacts of bioprocess yield and productivity on the product minimum selling price (MSP) and life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The production scenarios for these bioproducts assumed production from A-molasses in a biorefinery annexed to an existing sugarcane mill, and were simulated in Aspen Plus®, providing mass and energy balances for subsequent financial and environmental assessments. Stochastic financial methods were incorporated to consider the effect of market price variations on the viability of the considered production processes. The work was able to demonstrate whether further improvements to microbial strains (through synthetic biology) and bioprocesses could achieve the desired financial viabilities and environmental benefits that these products are intended to deliver. These outcomes are critical to setting priorities for further technology development and policymaking, as some of the production processes were not able to deliver the intended goals, within the theoretical limits of microbial conversion processes. 

Audience Takeaway Notes: 
•    Understanding the effect of product yield, product titre and volumetric productivity in the microbial conversion of sugars in a biorefinery on the economic performance (MPSP, OPEX and CAPEX) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
•    Use of full factorial design in optimization studies of process economics and environmental performance assessment and forecasting.
•    Identifying parameters around a bioprocess which are priorities for R&D for a more viable process.


Janus Louw studied Chemical Engineering at Stellenbosch University and received his bachelor’s degree in 2017. In 2019, he joined the sugarcane biorefinery research chair at Stellenbosch University as a Masters’ student under Prof. Görgens. Since then, he has successfully upgraded his dissertation to a PhD in 2021, which he will complete in 2023. Janus will continue working in the sugarcane biorefinery research chair as a postdoctoral fellow under Prof Görgens after obtaining his doctorate.