Cell Free and Immobilization Technologies (CFIT)

Research output: NRELPresentation


Today, several key factors negatively impact the production of fuels and chemicals from renewable sources. Common hindrances in the biological production of biochemicals are: (1) end-product or intermediate toxicity to the microbial biocatalyst, (2) the diversion of carbon to biomass formation, and (3) co-production of undesired byproducts. A particularly attractive alternative is to eliminate the biocatalyst entirely and instead operate the desired metabolic pathways in isolation, thus circumventing the roadblocks of biological toxicity, lower yields, and lack of specificity. However, cell-free enzyme systems still suffer from low productivities owing in part to the effects of free diffusion of intermediates, lack of long term enzyme stability, cofactor cost or inefficient recycling rates, and finally, the cost of enzyme production/purification. This project represents a new effort to propose innovative and cost competitive routes to producing biochemicals from a variety of feedstocks using cell free approaches. These routes will help reduce the current risk and cost associated with classical cell free production. Cell free technologies show promise for application to the production of toxic/inhibitory products or products difficult to separate from microbial growth media and can help reduce the production barriers in multiple areas of biological conversion of feedstocks to biochemicals. More specifically, we are developing new technologies and routes that could be used to produce high value biochemicals such as 2,3 BDO and terpenes (among many others) from biomass derived C5/C6 sugars or lignin but also from waste byproducts such as glycerol. This project will lead to significant innovation and also lead to new concepts and rational design of pathways and enzymes. Within this project, we will develop new metabolic enzyme cascades that will represent natural or artificial combinations of enzymes to produce the desired biochemicals from a variety of feedstocks. We are also developing basic design principals for constructing synthetic metabolons, using fusion proteins and synthetic protein scaffolds, to promote substrate channeling and stability while conserving peak activity. Additionally, our efforts include a techno economic analysis (TEA) of cell free approaches to provide the sensitivities of the process to enzyme loading, activity, pH, reactor volumes, cofactor recycling rates. Finally, we are focusing on further increasing stability, operating lifetime and efficiency of the pathway enzymes by immobilization on support surfaces. We are also focus on immobilizing pathway enzymes or combinations of enzymes on several different conducting polymers and evaluate the effect on stability and operating lifetime. As more combinations become available we will conduct a more systematic study of the means of immobilizing these enzymes. This preliminary work will enable the in-depth study of cofactor recycling at these interfaces using mediators for electron transfer. Taken together, these approaches will enable process intensification, continuous operation, lower capital and separations costs and end-product flexibility, and thus has the potential to contribute significantly to BETO's goals of cost competitive biofuels and bioproducts. To date we have demonstrated 1) the conversion of pyruvate to 2,3 BDO (4 enzymes with cofactor recycling, no additional cofactors needed) at >100g/L (>3g/L/h) using our enzyme tethering approach, 2) Generated mutants of a key redox enzyme with >180- fold improvement in NADH utilization over WT to >85% of NADPH utilization. 3) Produced mevalonate at >10g/L from glucose, limonene at >10g/L from mevalonate and more than >5g/L from glucose with crude enzyme preparations and complete cofactor recycling. 4) successfully generated fully active cross-linked aggregates (CLEAs) of NOX, a cofactor-regenerating water-forming oxidase that is key to our process with increased stability 5) Engineered and identified enzymes able to use the biomimetic cofactor NMN and synthesized new synthetic cofactors.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2023 U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) Project Peer Review, 3-7 April 2023, Denver, Colorado

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-2700-85592


  • biocatalysis
  • cell free
  • enzymes
  • immobilization
  • terpenes
  • toxicity


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