Moving from Oil to Bioderived Chemicals: A Success Story

Joseph Priestley Society
Thursday, October 20, 2022
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EDT (UTC -4)

This month’s Joseph Priestley Society virtual talk features biochemist Mark Emptage, who reflects on his experience developing one of the first commercially successful bioderived commodity chemicals to use a genetically engineered microorganism.

The production of 1,3-propanediol (PDO) by a fermentation process is one of the first commercially successful bioderived commodity chemicals to have used a genetically engineered microorganism. PDO is one of the monomers in DuPont’s (now Covation’s) Sorona® polyester fiber, which is used in carpets and apparel.

PDO is also used in the manufacture of polyurethanes with enhanced mechanical properties and as a standalone replacement for glycols in personal care, food, and pharmaceutical formulations.

The entire program required 11 years, from the initial research program to genetically engineer a microorganism to produce PDO, to the startup of a 100 million pound per year production plant. The success of the program also required collaboration between DuPont and Genencor International for microorganism development, and with Tate and Lyle for fermentation plant design and construction.

This presentation will trace the development of a microorganism through genetic engineering, metabolic pathway modifications, enzyme improvements, and serendipity to create a production organism that converts glucose to PDO at economically high rates, titers, and yields.


About the Speaker


Mark Emptage headshot

Mark Emptage.

Mark Emptage is a biochemist who retired after a 31-year career in Central Research & Development at DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware. As a senior research associate, he worked on a variety of enzyme-related programs, including inhibition of amino acid biosynthetic pathways for new herbicide discovery, defluorination biochemistry to understand potential environmental impacts of fluorocarbon refrigerants, production of PDO in a genetically engineered microorganism, improvement of ethanol production from mixed sugars in a non-yeast microorganism, and development of enzyme cocktails for the digestion of corn stover as a feedstock for ethanol production.

Emptage received a BS in chemistry from Illinois Institute of Technology and a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Illinois. He has 47 journal publications and 10 issued patents. In 2003 he received the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award as part of a DuPont-Genencor International team that developed microbial production of 1,3-propanediol.

About the Moderator


Keith Wing headshot

Keith Wing.

Keith Wing has been a member of the Joseph Priestley Society executive committee for nine years. He was a senior research associate for the Rohm and Haas Company and DuPont Corporation in agrochemical discovery and green renewable chemicals from 1983 to 2011, and from 2012 to present as principal of his own consulting company in those fields. He has received individual and team corporate awards from both companies for science and business achievements in insecticide discovery, and in 2015 was awarded the American Chemical Society AGRO Division International Award for career achievements.

Keith received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1976; his PhD from University of California, Riverside/Davis, in 1981, and did postdoctoral research at University of California, Berkeley from 1981 to 1983.


About the Series

The Joseph Priestley Society (JPS) promotes a deeper understanding of science, technology, and industry, with an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. Speakers are leaders from a wide variety of large and small chemical companies and the financial, consulting, and academic communities.

For more information about this event, please contact