Fermentative production of propionic acid: prospects and limitations of microorganisms and substrates

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2021 Aug;105(16-17):6199-6213. doi: 10.1007/s00253-021-11499-1. Epub 2021 Aug 19.


Propionic acid is an important organic acid with wide industrial applications, especially in the food industry. It is currently produced from petrochemicals via chemical routes. Increasing concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and a growing consumer preference for bio-based products have led to interest in fermentative production of propionic acid, but it is not yet competitive with chemical production. To improve the economic feasibility and sustainability of bio-propionic acid, fermentation performance in terms of concentration, yield, and productivity must be improved and the cost of raw materials must be reduced. These goals require robust microbial producers and inexpensive renewable feedstocks, so the present review focuses on bacterial producers of propionic acid and promising sources of substrates as carbon sources. Emphasis is placed on assessing the capacity of propionibacteria and the various approaches pursued in an effort to improve their performance through metabolic engineering. A wide range of substrates employed in propionic acid fermentation is analyzed with particular interest in the prospects of inexpensive renewable feedstocks, such as cellulosic biomass and industrial residues, to produce cost-competitive bio-propionic acid. KEY POINTS: • Fermentative propionic acid production emerges as competitor to chemical synthesis. • Various bacteria synthesize propionic acid, but propionibacteria are the best producers. • Biomass substrates hold promise to reduce propionic acid fermentation cost.

Keywords: Cellulosic biomass; Fermentation; Metabolic engineering; Propionibacteria; Propionic acid; Renewable feedstocks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fermentation
  • Metabolic Engineering
  • Propionates*
  • Propionibacterium*


  • Propionates
  • propionic acid