Isoprene is an essential starting material for a variety of synthetic polymers, most notably synthetic rubbers. A major portion of the isoprene produced globally is converted into polyisoprene, which is used in products such as footwear, mechanical instruments, medical appliances, sporting goods, and most extensively in rubber tires. Currently, isoprene is produced almost exclusively from petroleum-derived feedstocks, which in itself has inherent risks due to price volatility and the supply/demand situation of oil. Additionally, the processing of oil tends to be both expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Therefore, there is significant interest in developing technology that will produce isoprene in a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way, utilizing renewable sources.
One methodology that has been receiving increased attention is the use of genetically-engineered microorganisms to produce bio-based isoprene. Genencor (a division of Danisco USA, Inc., now owned by DuPont) and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company have teamed up to produce a product called BioIsoprene™. Their technology enhances the fermentative capabilities of a bacterial microorganism by genetically engineering its DNA, which subsequently improves enzyme activity leading to increased overall yield of isoprene. This technology also allows tremendous flexibility in terms of the type of carbon substrate used. With a global industrial production of isoprene at 1 million tons per year, a bio-based isoprene method has great commercial value.
This PEP review discusses and provides a detailed techno-economic analysis for bio-based isoprene production with a capacity of 100 thousand metric tons/year (220 million lb/yr). Additionally, it covers information regarding genetic engineering mechanisms, regulation of specific enzymes, and purification of isoprene to provide a cost-competitive alternative to petroleum-based isoprene.