Towards feasible and scalable solvent-free enzymatic polycondensations: integrating robust biocatalysts with thin film reactions†
There is an enormous potential for synthesizing novel bio-based functionalized polyesters under environmentally benign conditions by exploiting the catalytic efficiency and selectivity of enzymes. Despite the wide number of studies addressing in vitro enzymatic polycondensation, insufficient progress has been documented in the last two decades towards the preparative and industrial application of this methodology. The present study analyses bottlenecks hampering the practical applicability of enzymatic polycondensation that have been most often neglected in the past, with a specific focus on solvent-free processes. Data here presented elucidate how classical approaches for enzyme immobilization combined with batch reactor configuration translate into insufficient mass transfer as well as limited recyclability of the biocatalyst. In order to overcome such bottlenecks, the present study proposes thin-film processes employing robust covalently immobilized lipases. The strategy was validated experimentally by carrying out the solvent-free polycondensation of esters of adipic and itaconic acids. The results open new perspectives for enlarging the applicability of biocatalysts in other viscous and solvent-free syntheses.