May 23, 2024

Impact of COVID-19 on the Itaconic Acid Market: Resilience and Adaptation

Itaconic Acid: A Versatile Platform Chemical Produced Through Fermentation

Introduction to Itaconic Acid

Itaconic acid is an organic dicarboxylic acid produced through the fermentation of carbohydrates. With the chemical formula C5H6O4, itaconic acid contains two carboxyl groups that give it polymerization and degradation properties useful in various applications. Its name is derived from the fungus species Aspergillus itaconicus, which was first identified as a producer of this compound.

Fermentation Process for Production

Itaconic acid is produced industrially through a fermentation process utilizing Aspergillus terreus or Aspergillus brasiliensis fungus strains. The microbial fermentation involves growing the fungi in a liquid growth medium containing carbohydrate sources such as glucose, sucrose or cellulose hydrolysates. Through a complex metabolic pathway, the microorganisms metabolize the sugars and synthesize itaconic acid as a secondary metabolite. The fermentation process is well optimized to maximize itaconic acid yields from the cultures. Typical fermentation cycles last 3-5 days with itaconic acid concentrations reaching 30-50 g/L in the growth media.

Applications in Polymers and Plastics Industry

Due to the two carboxyl groups, itaconic acid can react with a variety of compounds through esterification, amidation and other condensation reactions. This property makes it useful as a monomer for synthesizing polymers with diverse properties. Itaconic acid is commonly copolymerized with acrylic acid or methacrylic acid to produce resins used in lacquers, films and coatings. It enhances adhesion, flexibility and weatherability of these formulations. Other polymers produced using itaconic acid as a building block include superabsorbents, Chelators, thickeners and emulsion polymers. These specialty materials find wide application in construction, paints, personal care and various industrial sectors.

Role in Synthesis of Chelating Agents

The ability of itaconic acid to form coordination complexes with metal ions leverages its use as a chelating agent. Chelating polymers containing pendant itaconic acid groups efficiently chelate alkaline earth, transition and heavy metal ions. Such ion exchange resins find application in water softening, industrial wastewater treatment and metal ion separations. Itaconic acid is also a building block in producing biodegradable chelators like EDTA substitutes for agricultural and cleaning products. These make for environment-friendly replacements to petrochemical based chelators.

Derivatives for Pharmaceuticals and Agrochemicals

Many active pharmaceutical ingredients are synthesized using itaconic acid as a starting material. For instance, itaconic anhydride which can be readily prepared from itaconic acid, acts as an intermediate in drug molecules containing imide functional groups. Also, fungicides and herbicides containing itaconic acid or its esters as part of the structure demonstrate effective pest control action. Examples are fungicides used against grapevine downy and powdery mildew caused by Plasmopara viticola and Uncinula necator respectively. Such agrochemicals based on itaconic acid offer eco-friendly alternatives to conventional pesticides.

Potential as Bio-Based Monomer

With rising concerns over dependence on non-renewable petroleum resources, biomass-derived building blocks are gaining focus for replacing petrol-chemicals. Itaconic acid produced through fermentation fits the criteria as a potentially green monomer. Its polymerization can yield materials with properties comparable or better than current petrol-based ones. Research efforts evaluate using itaconic acid-based polymers for applications like specialty adhesives, coatings, elastomers, sealants and thermoplastics. Commercialization prospects look promising as fermentation technology advances to bring down production costs to the level of non-bio-based alternatives. Overall, itaconic acid exhibits characteristics of an important platform chemical with a bright future.


In summary, itaconic acid represents an attractive building block derived from renewable biomass sources. Its versatile chemistry enables wide application as a monomer for synthesizing polymers, resins and chelators. Use of itaconic acid also extends to agrochemical and pharmaceutical intermediates. Current research focuses on fullest utilization of its potential as a green substitute for petrochemicals. With continuous technological developments in large-scale fermentation, itaconic acid production stands to gain as a sustainable alternative to meeting industry needs. Its diverse range of downstream products highlights ongoing efforts to leverage this platform chemical.