Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Novel Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) from New York's Renewable Resources(ST9704-1)



Glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel production, and levulinic acid and lignin, byproducts of wood biorefining, can be used as low-cost feedstock to make novel Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) via fermentation. Glycerol has a flat market demand. As biodiesel production grows, new outlets for glycerol are needed. Glycerol could become a low-cost carbon substrate for fermentation of biodegradable polyesters such as PHA. PHAs are naturally-produced compounds that can be used as high-value biodegradable thermoplastics. While early PHAs were brittle, co-polymers can be made that maintain strength and flexibility, and potentially have uses as a biodegradable paper coating. (The ratio of each monomer in the copolymer affects characteristics such as strength and melting temperature). State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) has obtained a 400L fermenter with which to make kilogram quantities of polymer. Though kilogram-scale production will not occur until Stage Two, the 400L fermenter will be optimized in Stage One to do so. In Stage Two, Tessy Plastics, a manufacturer of disposable plastic medical products, will evaluate the polymer for use in its product, with assistance from Welch Allyn, a medical device manufacturer. Evaluation by Tessy will include melt criteria and mechanical performance characteristics. This task requires 25-50 pounds for extrusion and injection-molding tests at the Tessy plant.

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Project Description

Work included: 1) screening microorganisms; 2) optimizing nutrient sources; 3) scaling up production from shake flasks to 7L fermenters; 4) determining and quantifying industrially-relevant properties; and, 5) planning experiments for the larger 400L reactor. Work was coordinated with Tessy Plastics.


Carbon substrates can account for up to 50% of the overall cost of PHA production. Low-cost feedstock could lead to PHA production that is economically competitive with petroleum-based plastics. A successful project could lead to negotiations with firms that have capacity for commercial production of biopolymers in large fermenters. The plastic could then be sold to Tessy Plastics for forming into products.

Project Results

In this project, researchers made PHA using crude glycerol. In follow-on work, levulinic acid and lignin-based substrates are being used as well, and PHA production is being scaled up to a 400L pilot facility.


200 Bray Hall, 1 Forestry Dr The Office of Research Program
Syracuse, NY 13210

Principle Investigator

Jim Nakas

Universities Involved

SUNY College of Environmental Science an


Project Type:

Indigenous/Renewable Energy Resources

Technologies Types:

NYSERDA Contact Information

Judy Jarnefeld


R&D - Environment & Energy Res

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST9704-1

Last Updated: 12/1/2010