This chapter reviews current bio-based lipids and wax, the chemical and biological production routes, and their applications. Lipids comprise a variety of naturally occurring compounds, such as fats/oils (triglycerides), phospholipids, diglycerides, monoglycerides, steroids and waxes. Lipids and wax are currently produced from petroleum, as well as plants and animals. Many microorganisms, like bacteria, fungi and microalgae, can also accumulate large amount of lipids and waxes in their cell biomass. Their microbial synthesis is sustainable and the microbial-derived lipids and wax are compatible with the current petroleum-based products. Lipids and wax can be applied as nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals and fuels.
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Even though lipids and waxes have been explored as fine chemicals for decades, due to the recent energy crisis, generation of liquid biofuel from lipids and wax esters has attracted attention from both academia and industry, it becoming the mainstream of research in the last few years. Numerous projects have been funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as the National Science Foundation to study the whole process for generating liquid biofuel products from non-food lipids and waxes. These projects cover a wide range of topics, including feedstock development, biological and chemical conversion technologies, harvesting and logistics, and life-cycle assessment. For example, projects funded from the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) program under USDA and DOE are specifically focusing on this area in recent years. The DOE also funded research projects to explore possibilities for other types of drop-in biofuels, for example, hydrocarbons and terpenoids. A typical example is the project led by Professor Larry Wackett at the University of Minnesota and supported by the DOE Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program with $2.2 million to use photosynthetic bacteria that can convert light and carbon dioxide to ‘feed’ a hydrocarbon-producing Shewanella bacteria for scaled-up production ( Wackett, Gralnick et al., 2010–2012 ).
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- Applications of lipids and waxes
- Microbial production