Methods for Conversion of Food Waste to Chemical Products

Technology #17870

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Inventors
Professor Gregory Stephanopoulos
Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
External Link (bamel.scripts.mit.edu)
Kristen Fortnam
Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Devin Currie
Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Managed By
Jim Freedman
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Chemicals, Instruments, Consumer Products
Patent Protection

Methods for conversion of food waste to chemical products

US Patent Pending US 2016-0355849

Methods for conversion of food waste to chemical products

PCT Patent Application WO 2016-176575

Applications

This technology can be applied to produce lactic acid from solid organic waste. Lactic acid is an important commodity chemical used as an acidity regulator and flavoring agent in the food industry, and as a feedstock to produce polylactic acid (PLA) -- a biodegradable plastic.

Problem Addressed

Existing methods of producing lactic acid by fermentation are faced with several limitations. The current method for commercial production uses sugar as a feedstock, and therefore suffers from high raw material cost. Alternative methods that make use of organic waste have been explored, but these methods often suffer from high production overheads associated with the need to sterilize the feedstock to prevent contamination. This invention describes a novel method of lactic acid production from organic waste that addresses these problems.

Technology

The process described in this invention is able to use most forms of organic waste as feedstock, although waste with high sugar, starch, and/or protein content is preferred. The waste material is prepared for fermentation by grinding it to a particle size of < 1 mm and adjusting its pH to 5.5. Subsequently, the prepared waste material is anaerobically digested by a multi-species consortium of microbes comprising both bacteria and archaea members. Undesirable production of side products is a major challenge faced in obtaining high yields of lactic acid. The Inventors describe a pH-based technique to simultaneously limit production of methane and short-chain fatty acids, which are the primary side products competing with lactic acid. By using a microbial community instead of a monoculture and by using pH to control the composition of fermentation products, this invention allows production of lactic acid from organic waste while avoiding the significant overheads associated with feedstock sterilization or the use of antibiotics or other specialty chemicals to control yield. The Inventors have achieved lactic acid yields of over 100 g per ton of organic food waste using this process.

Advantages

  • Does not require costly sterilization
  • Does not require addition of antibiotics or specific methanogenesis inhibitors
  • Uses low- or no-cost solid organic waste as feedstock