Succinic Acid

Biobased Succinic Acid: Biobased Building Blocks

What is succinic acid?

Succinic acid is an intermediate organic molecule which can be processed by various means to yield mutliple useful products such as detergents and food additives. In nature, succinic acid is a product of the metabolic pathways of many microbes, animals, and plants. However, most commercial succinic acid is produced from petroleum, and due to recent pressure to move towards safer bio-based products, alternative pathways of succinic acid production have been evaluated. As a result of succinic acid production research, microorganisms were identified which are able to produce large amounts of succinic acid through the fermentation of carbohydrates and biomass. Two organisms which are able to perform this process efficiently are Actinobacillus succinogenes and Escherichia coli.

What makes succinic acid useful?

Succinic acid is able to be derived from biomass, such as corn, and processed to make many industrial and commercial products. Detergents, corrosion inhibitors, and food ingredients are all able to be derived from succinic acid. Food flavoring, pharmaceuticals, and engine coolants are also products of succinic acid. Succinic acid can also be processed into a variety of organic molecules and polymers. Examples include adipic acid, malic acid, and esters. It can also be used as a base-material for solvent production and tetrahydrofuran. Many of these products are made through the processing of petroleum, which is becoming a limiting factor due to environmental impact and resource scarcity. The production of succinic acid through fermentation processes allows for a greener alternative with the added benefit of carbon fixation. Future estimations show that biobased succinic acid has the potential to greatly offset the use of petroleum-based succinic acid as petroleum costs continue to rise.

What is the process for fermentative succinic acid production?

The production of succinic is a relatively simple anaerobic fermentation process. Glucose is split into two succinic acid molecules through the consumption of two CO2 molecules. This carbon fixation will assist in the reduction of greenhouse gases while providing a renewable material for industrial implementation.

What are the intermediate chemicals derived from succinic acid?

One intermediate chemical derived from succinic acid is 1, 4-Butanediol. This chemical is important for many applications such as automotive and electrical as well as industrial solvents. Another intermediate is N-Methylpyrrolidone, which is being considered as a replacement for methylene chloride. This solvent replacement would eliminate toxic emissions caused by methylene chloride processing, which is a green-alternative advantage. Linear aliphatic esters are another intermediate of succinic acid. They are important constituents of many polymers, opening the doors to biobased-polymers. Other intermediates include tetrahydrofuran and adipic acid.


Zeikus, J. G., M. K. Jain, and P. Elankovan. “Biotechnology of Succinic Acid Production and Markets.” Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 51.5 (1999): 545-52.

Carole, Tracy M., Joan Pellegrino, and Mark D. Paster. “Opportunities in the Industrial Biobased Products Industry.” Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology 115.1-3 (2004): 871-85.