Introduction of Bioprivileged Molecules Opens Pathways for Developing Sustainable Biochemicals

Achievement date: 

Researchers at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), headquartered at Iowa State University (ISU), have developed a new concept for articulating the importance of integrating biology and chemistry in the production of new biobased chemicals. The team introduced the development of bioprivileged molecules in the July 2017 Green Chemistry cover story.


The concept presented as bioprivileged molecules provides a robust, systematic framework for bringing new biobased chemicals to the market. By exploring the use of biologically-derived intermediates from biomass, new intermediate molecules can be introduced for conversion to molecules capable of replacing petrochemicals. This development also shows potential for enabling novel chemical species with enhanced performance properties.


Research and development of biobased chemicals historically focused on opportunistic conditions that inevitably ebbed and flowed with broader societal factors, such as policies on “green” products and fossil carbon pricing. Prior systematic biobased chemical development frameworks have not been robust enough to meet these changing conditions.

In contrast, bioprivileged molecules represent a culmination of CBiRC’s conceptual development towards a systematic framework for more sustainable biobased chemical developments. The idea developed over the life of the center from testbed learnings, industrial interactions, and governmental policy discussions. In addition to the Green Chemistry article, which describes three promising bioprivileged molecules – muconic acid, 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and triacetic acid lactone as examples – the concept has been vetted through two NSF-funded workshops. Brent Shanks and Peter Keeling of ISU authored the study.