Enzymatic phosphorus recovery from de-oiled seeds

Significance 

More often than not, biomass from both animal and plants goes to waste; and with it, abundant unrecovered resources (such as phosphorous) that would help offset global pressure on the natural environment. For instance, biomass from crop-processing such as de-oiled seeds, grains, and nuts are phosphorus-rich raw materials with a hidden potential for recycling of the valuable element. Generally, phosphorous, in the form of phosphates is essential for life and occurs in many biochemical compounds. In addition, phosphorous fertilizers are a prerequisite to secure world food production. Globally, phosphorous is exclusively gained by rock mining as mineral deposits. Overall, the mining process is labor intensive, environment-unfriendly and at times involves child labor. With the current global trends inclined towards a sustainable lifestyle, the significance of phosphorous stewardship is increasingly being recognized. Concepts for resource management within the framework of a circular bioeconomy are gaining popularity. So far, in addition to plant- derived phosphorous, there are various alternative sources still available for exploitation: i.e. urine, feces, manure and digestates.

Generally, the possibility of replacing phosphorous from mining is known but not explored on a technical and commercial scale. Plants store phosphorous in an organically bound form called phytate, which occurs predominantly in seeds and grains. A thorough review of existing literature reveals that phytate extraction measures have so far aimed only at minimizing the effects of phytate and not at recovering the released phosphorous. Therefore, to bridge this gap, German researchers from the RWTH Aachen University: Kevin Herrmann (PhD student), Dr. Anna Joelle Ruff, and Professor Dr. Ulrich Schwaneberg proposed a novel yet broadly applicable, and environment-friendly process to recover phosphorous from commonly used agricultural residues. Their work is currently published in the research journal, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

In their approach, press cakes from 13 distinct plant press cakes were analyzed with respect to the phytate content by high performance liquid chromatography in order to how the general applicability of the phytase-based phosphorous-recycling process. Further, with the aim being to achieve energetically favorable and environment-friendly process conditions, the Escherichia coli wild-type phytase AppA was used to free inorganic phosphate from phytate at 37 °C and in aqueous suspensions without the use of acids or the addition of excess salts.

The authors reported that their phytase-based phosphate release approach was applicable to all different press cakes tested. This demonstrated the broad applicability of phytases in bio-phosphorous recovery. Indeed, the team mentioned that through large scale application, their technique had potential of quantities in excess of 1 million tons of phosphorous.

In summary, the research team introduced a novel broadly applicable process for recycling phosphate from plant biomass by utilizing phytase enzymes. Remarkably, the recovered phosphate was free of heavy-metal impurities and could be used as a green fertilizer in organic farming or for the biotechnological production of polyphosphates. In a statement to Advances in Engineering, Professor Ulrich Schwaneberg highlighted that in a circular bioeconomy, bio-phosphorous production would enable new and decentralized value chains and ensure sustainable and autarkic food production.

Enzymatic phosphorus recovery from de-oiled seeds - Advances in Engineering

About the author

Dr. Anna Joëlle Ruff
Webpage: www.biotec.rwth-aachen.de
Email : [email protected]
ORCID Account: 0000-001-9318-052X

Her research interests:
Rational and evolutive protein engineering to develop improved catalyst for a sustainable Bioeconomy and application of the catalyst in chemical and pharmaceutical synthesis as well as in food production.

  • Enzymatic Bio-phosphate production from renewable resources.
  • Development of key technologies for advancing protein engineering methods (focus on diversity generation and high-throughput screening methodologies).

Application of the developed key technologies and strategies to foster the application areas; Recovery of valuable compounds from agro-waste and robust catalyst for the synthesis of organic building blocks.

About the author

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schwaneberg

Since 01.2009 : Head of the Institute of Biotechnology; (since 1.2014 reduced to a 50 % appointment); Faculty of Natural Science, Mathematics and Informatics, RWTH Aachen University, Germany

Since 01.2014 : Member of the Board of Scientific Directors at the DWI Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials (50 % appointment; located at the RWTH Aachen campus in Melaten), Leibniz Gemeinschaft, Germany

FELLOWSHIPS AND AWARD
2018 : Innovation award of the BioRegions’ Germany
2016 : BMBF-Awardee for the next generation of bioprocesses (1.75 M€)
2015 : Specially appointed professor at Osaka University (visiting professorship).
Since 2014 :  RWTH Aachen Performance Awards.
2013 : More often than not, biomass from both animal and plants goes to waste; and with it, abundant unrecovered resources (such as phosphorous) that would help offset global pressure on the natural environment. For instance, biomass from crop-processing such as de-oiled seeds, grains, and nuts are phosphorus-rich raw materials with a hidden potential for recycling of the valuable element. Generally, phosphorous, in the form of phosphates is essential for life and occurs in many biochemical compounds. In addition, phosphorous fertilizers are a prerequisite to secure world food production. Globally, phosphorous is exclusively gained by rock mining as mineral deposits. Overall, the mining process is labor intensive, environment-unfriendly and at times involves child labor. With the current global trends inclined towards a sustainable lifestyle, the significance of phosphorous stewardship is increasingly being recognized. Concepts for resource management within the framework of a circular bioeconomy are gaining popularity. So far, in addition to plant- derived phosphorous, there are various alternative sources still available for exploitation: i.e. urine, feces, manure and digestates.

Visiting Professorship of Senior International Scientists of the Chinese Academy of Science (Sabbatical in 2014 at the TIB in Tianjin)

1999 – 2001 : Caltech Post-doc Fellowship

INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES (notable activities)
Since 2020 : Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of CLIB (Cluster Industrial Biotechnology).
Since 2019 : Member of the Advisory Board in Bioeconomy of the MWIDE (Ministry of Industry and Economics) of the state of NRW.
Since 2019 : Coordinator of two Innovation Labs (InnoLabs) of the BIOÖKONOMIEREVIER
Since 2015 : Speaker of Henkel Innovation Campus for Advanced and Sustainable Technologies HICAST
Since 2010 : Representative of RWTH Aachen in the board of directors and deputy director of the whole Bioeconomy Science Center (58.5 Mio € for 10 years; see www.biosc.de)
2012 – 2014 : Dean of the ‘Department’ of Biology (Aachener Biologie und Biotechnologie ABBt; 18 professors Fachgruppe Biologie), RWTH Aachen University, Germany (e.g. development of a structural and development plan with three focus areas)
Since 2013 : Member of the committee for development of the RWTH research profile area ‘Molecular Science & Engineering’, RWTH Aachen University, Germany; since 2020 head of the MSE-Committee
2013 : Successful development of a research agenda and defence of the DWI’s application to become an institute of national interest within the Leibniz Association (DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials, Aachen, Germany)

Reference

Kevin R. Herrmann, Anna Joelle Ruff, Ulrich Schwaneberg. Phytase-Based Phosphorus Recovery Process for 20 Distinct Press Cakes. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2020, volume 8, page 3913−3921.

Go To ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering

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