Converting Waste Biomass to Medicine

In what could help mitigate the pollution arising out of burning the biomass waste, scientists at IITD have developed a biorenewable platform that can convert the waste to a high value chemicals and medicine.

Utilization of waste lignocellulosic biomass to produce high value fuels and chemicals is opening up avenues for the design of novel processes to provide a range of products in the portfolio of a futuristic bio-refinery.

The Renewable Energy and Chemicals (REC) Research group at the Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Delhi led by Prof M. Ali Haider has devised ways to provide solutions through an integrated bio- and chemo-catalytic process in which waste biomass is fermented to produce a platform chemical, which is further upgraded via a simple catalytic transformation to produce a desired high value chemical. For this purpose, Prof. Haider’s group has developed 2-pyrone molecules obtained from the fermentation of waste biomass (e.g. sugarcane bagasse) as a potential biorenewable platform, from which a range of pharmaceutical, polymer, food-additive, insect repellent and other high value chemicals are derived.

In this approach, recent experiments by co-researchers Dr. Md. Imteyaz Alam and Mohammad Wasi Akhtar have demonstrated a green, sustainable and robust route to produce Warfarin and similar drugs with high yield (>90%) from 4-hydroxycoumarin (4HC), which is a 2-pyrone platform chemical synthesized from the fermentation of waste lignocellulosic biomass. At present, Warfarin and such drugs are commonly prescribed for thromboembolic and cardiovascular disorders. These drugs are synthesized via a chemical synthesis route using 4HC as a precursor and pyridine (a possible carcinogenic chemical) as a solvent.

“The biorenewable process to produce Warfarin developed in his lab is based on using water as a solvent with a solid acid catalyst, which can be easily recovered. This route to produce medicine and other high value chemicals from waste biomass can solve local issues related to air pollution experienced in National Capital Region (NCR) of India,” Prof Haider said.

With an economic incentive, the farmers who burn waste agricultural residues will now have a choice to ferment it and produce platform chemicals such as 2-pyrone molecules, which can be processed in a bio-refinery to produce the desired medicine and other high value chemicals. WowChemE (, an IIT Delhi start-up will be working further on this technology.

13th Jan 2020