A study, published in Green Chemistry by investigators of the CSIC and the universities Complutense and Autonomous of Madrid, shows the efficient capacity of a bacterial stump for metabolizar the carbon of commercial ionic liquids of extensive use in the chemical industry.

Protic ionic liquid

Ionic liquids are organic salts, liquid at room temperature, which are taking a special interest from the chemical industry. Because of their unique and excellent properties such as solvents, are being used to replace traditional organic solvents. However, these chemicals can be potentially problematic for their persistence in the environment. In fact, according to studies in recent years about the possible environmental impact, ionic liquids have a wide range of toxicities and, in general, a low biodegradability.

A recent joint study carried out of form by scientists of the Department of Molecular Biology and the Section of Chemical Engineering of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University Complutense of Madrid (UCM), and the Institute of Science and Technology of Polymers of the Upper Counsel of Scientific Investigations (CSIC), opens possibilities of solution to this problem.

The study, published in the journal Green Chemistry, focused on selecting a microorganism capable of degrading commercial Ionic liquids efficiently the chemical industry. Thus, when used for the first time a bacterial strain Sphingomonas paucimobilis in studies of biodegradability of ionic liquids, scientists have found high efficiencies of biodegradation of great interest applied.

According to Dr. Concepcion Abrusci, Department of Molecular Biology, UAM, “the study was very broad, as it was performed on 37 commercial structures of imidazolium, pyridinium, pyrrolidinium, ammonium and phosphonium, and including 12 anion 14 different cations. 54% of the structures studied were biodegraded over 60% within 28 days of incubation at 45°C with the bacteria Sphingomonas paucimobilis”.

These results suggest the possibility of bio-treatments effective for fast and efficient mineralization of ionic liquids in wide industrial use, in previous trials with other microorganisms, were reluctant to biodegradation. The study also opens up possibilities for the development of processes for treatment of waters contaminated with ionic liquids, very important aspect in the current boom of this new type of solvents and large scale applications.