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Yokohama claims biomass isoprene breakthrough

Rubber Co. has claimed to have developed "the world's first technology" capable of efficiently producing isoprene from a biomass.

The breakthrough was achieved in a joint research with Japanese research institute Riken and materials supplier Zeon Corp., YRC said in a July 26 statement.

Isoprene is a raw material in the production of synthetic rubber and currently is produced as a by-product of naphtha pyrolysis.

YRC, Riken and Zeon began their joint research in 2013 and discovered a new isoprene-synthesising process using a computer-based in-silico metabolic design technology within two years. The trio further developed the new technology, creating cells with "excellent isoprene-synthesising capability" based on a new artificial pathway and highly active enzymes, Yokohama said.

The cells created through the technology have the in-vivo capability of generating isoprene from a biomass—typically sugar. This serves as the starting material. The in-vivo generated isoprene is then polymerized to achieve the synthesis of polyisoprene rubber.

Polyisoprene rubber polymerised using the new technology.

Explaining the process, Yokohama said that it is widely understood that isoprene is produced naturally from mevalonic acid—an intermediate substance formed from sugar—through a five-stage reaction.

"But the new artificial pathway constructed through the joint research reduces that process to two stages," the Tokyo-based tire and rubber company said.

Yokohama also claims that the highly active enzymes possess "a phenomenal isoprene-producing capability that is not achievable by natural enzymes."

It added: "Introducing this artificial pathway and these enzymes into colon bacilli gives the bacteria an isoprene-generating ability that it lacks in nature and enables an efficient artificial synthesis of isoprene."

The company has also confirmed that this technology can also be applied to butadiene-based synthetic rubber and other diene rubbers.

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