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Recent progress on industrial fermentative production of acetone–butanol–ethanol by Clostridium acetobutylicum in China


China is one of the few countries, which maintained the fermentative acetone–butanol–ethanol (ABE) production for several decades. Until the end of the last century, the ABE fermentation from grain was operated in a few industrial scale plants. Due to the strong competition from the petrochemical industries, the fermentative ABE production lost its position in the 1990s, when all the solvent fermentation plants in China were closed. Under the current circumstances of concern about energy limitations and environmental pollution, new opportunities have emerged for the traditional ABE fermentation industry since it could again be potentially competitive with chemical synthesis. From 2006, several ABE fermentation plants in China have resumed production. The total solvent (acetone, butanol, and ethanol) production capacity from ten plants reached 210,000 tons, and the total solvent production is expected to be extended to 1,000,000 tons (based on the available data as of Sept. 2008). This article reviews current work in strain development, the continuous fermentation process, solvent recovery, and economic evaluation of ABE process in China. Challenges for an economically competitive ABE process in the future are also discussed.

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The authors would like to thank Professor George Bennett (Rice University, Houston, Texas) for comments, suggestions, and critically reading the manuscript. Help from Professors Weihong Jiang and Sheng Yang (Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences) is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Zhihao Sun.

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Ni, Y., Sun, Z. Recent progress on industrial fermentative production of acetone–butanol–ethanol by Clostridium acetobutylicum in China. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 83, 415–423 (2009).

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  • Acetone butanol ethanol (ABE)
  • Fermentation
  • Clostridium acetobutylicum
  • China