BASF leads project converting sugar and CO2 into eco-friendly fumaric acid using bacteria

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Galeanu Mihai
© GettyImages/Galeanu Mihai

Related tags fumaric acid Basf Carbon dioxide Greenhouse gas

BASF aims to transform sugar and carbon dioxide into fumaric acid, a crucial chemical intermediate, using a bacterium.

This effort is part of the FUMarsäure BIObasiert (FUMBIO) project, a collaboration with Saarland University, University of Marburg, and the University of Kaiserslautern-Landau.

Isolated in 2008 from a Holstein cow's rumen, the bacterium, Basfia succiniciproducens, will be genetically modified to produce copious quantities of bio-based fumaric acid, or fumarate, during fermentation. BASF says this intermediate will enable it to create food and animal feed additives with a low carbon footprint, as well as medication starting materials, and building blocks for polymers and detergents.

Traditionally, the chemical industry has derived fumaric acid from fossil-based raw materials, such as crude oil.

When asked how Basfia succiniciproducens metabolizes sugar and CO2 to produce fumarate, Dr Barbara Navé, head of the FUMBIO project and responsible for new white biotechnology projects at BASF, told FeedNavigator:

“In the presence of CO2 and glucose this particular bacterium can produce high amounts of succinic acid. We plan to engineer the bacterium in such a way that it will accumulate fumaric acid, a compound closely related to succinic acid.”

Expanding on the role of the participating universities, she said they are focused on further developing the bacterium through genetic engineering. “The project partners want to optimize the fermentation process in such a way that the bacteria use renewable raw materials such as sugar and carbon dioxide to produce as much fumarate as possible.”

The FUMBIO project aims to develop the process up to laboratory scale. Further development to large scale is not part of the initiative, explained Dr Navé.

Recycling CO2

White biotechnology is becoming increasingly important, according to BASF. The bacteria will utilize carbon dioxide from exhaust gas streams at chemical plants as a carbon source. But Dr Navé was unable to disclose at this stage how the CO2 is captured and prepared for use in the in the fermentation process.

She added: “Recycling CO2 from industrial off-gas will help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieve our climate targets by 2050.”

The FUMBIO project will compare the CO2 footprint of biotechnology-produced fumarate to that of petrochemical-based production, with the partners expecting a significantly lower or even negative carbon footprint due to the use of CO2 as a raw material.

​We are working with the company RIFCON, which will use its technology to measure the CO2 footprint of bio-based fumarate. The company works in accordance with the Together for Sustainability (TfS) guidelines, which were designed specifically for the chemical sector and are compliant with current guidelines.”

The project also includes refining fumarate through enzymatic bio-catalysis into biodegradable industrial products. “Many different enzymes are used in this process, depending on the desired product.”


The FUMBIO project is financially supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research, which is providing approximately €2.6m in funding. “The budget will be divided among the project partners according to the work package scope.”

Biotechnology processes, such as fermentation, in which microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi use renewable raw materials or even CO2 as a building block for metabolic products, will become increasingly important for BASF in the future, outlined Dr Navé. "It will enable us to offer our customers a wider range of bio-based products with a low carbon footprint, using a variety of feedstocks in an efficient, resource-conserving and, most importantly, flexible manner.”

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