Glass maker

Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Germany, have discovered an enzyme capable of producing acrylic glass from natural raw materials.


Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research have discovered an enzyme capable of producing acrylic glass from natural raw materials.


Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), also known as acrylic glass, is currently manufactured chemically by polymerizing methyl methacrylate (MMA). The new process claims to produce PMMA using a biotechnological process that is said to be more environmentally friendly.


According to researchers, the two-hydroxyisobutyryl-CoA mutase enzyme can transform natural compounds such as sugars, alcohols or fatty acids into a basis for MMA synthesis. The technique will allow the chemicals industry to meet the increasing demand for PMMA by using renewable raw materials rather than manufacturing it chemically.


The discovery, which has been nominated for the European Evonik research award, was made by Dr Thore Rohwerder and Dr Roland H Müller. The award judges believe that the technology will allow 10 per cent of today’s demand for MMA to be produced by biotechnological means.

The global MMA market is worth €4bn and researchers estimate that it takes four years to develop the bacterial system in a pilot plant. The process is expected to be established within 10 years and have a annual turnover of €150m to €400m.