InterviewCorrected: Bio-succinic acid can beat petchems on price

18 February 2010 21:36  [Source: ICIS news]

Correction: In the ICIS news story headlined “Bio-succinic acid can beat petchems on price” dated 18 February 2010, please read in the first paragraph … US specialty chemicals company Myriant Technologies … instead of … US lactides producer …. A corrected story follows.

By Al Greenwood

SAN FRANCISCO (ICIS news)--US specialty chemicals company Myriant Technologies expects that renewable succinic acid can become a bio-based intermediate that can compete on price against its petrochemical peers, an executive said on Thursday.

Already, big names such as DSM and Mitsubishi Chemicals are developing bio-based succinic acid. BASF and Purac are developing a succinic acid plant in Spain.

The world’s first bio-based succinic acid plant started operations in Pomacle, France.

The plant, with a capacity of 2,000 tonnes/year, was developed by Bioamber, a joint venture made up of US-based DNP Green Technology and the French group ARD (Agro-industrie Recherches et Developpements).

Myriant Technologies plans to build a 30m lb/year plant in Louisiana through a $50m (€37m) grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE). The company has yet to set a completion date.

In all, there is a lot of interest for what is a relatively small market.

World demand for succinic acid is roughly 40,000-45,000 tonnes/year, said Michael Mang, business development manager at Myriant Technologies. He was speaking on the sidelines of the InformexUSA conference in San Francisco.

Specifically, succinic acid is attracting so much attention because it is an important feedstock for several high-volume and high-value chemicals, Mang said at Informex.

Renewable succinic acid can be used to make butanediol (BDO), which, in turn, is an intermediate for polytetramethylene ether glycol (PTMEG), tetrahydrofuran (THF) and polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), according to ICIS chemical intelligence.

In some cases, succinic acid could replace adipic acid, Mang said. However, this excludes nylon 6,6 production.

In the US alone, demand for butanediol is expected to reach 424,000 tonnes in 2012, up from 392,000 in 2008, according to ICIS. Asian demand could grow by 7-9%/year.

Right now, nearly all of the world’s succinic acid is made from maleic anhydride (MA) in a process that Mang said is expensive and energy intensive. Renewables provide a cheaper route that does not rely on MA, Mang said.

In fact, succinic acid could take renewables out of their current niche, where they depend on green marketing or on government subsidies, Mang said.

“There is not a market big enough for people willing to pay enough for green chemicals,” Mang said.

To break out of their niche, renewables need to successfully compete on price and quality. Myriant and others plan to do that with renewable succinic acid, Mang said.

While Myriant's process relies on grain sorghum as a feedstock, it ultimately plans to adopt lignocellulosics, Mang said. Such a process could provide the backdrop for a bio-refinery.

Wood pulp, rice hulls and other lignocellulosics would be broken down, producing C5 and C6 sugars as well as lignin.

The C6 sugars would provide feedstock for fuel ethanol, while the C5 sugars would become feedstock for specialty chemicals, Mang said. The remaining lignin could be burned to help power the complex.

The model, in fact, resembles that already used by the petrochemical industry, where hydrocarbons provide the feedstock for low-value fuels and high-value specialty chemicals, Mang said.

Of course, adopting a new process cannot happen suddenly – which is one of the reasons why companies are not building succinic acid plants that can produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes per year, Mang said.

Producers need to test renewable succinic acid and its derivatives, ensuring that they satisfy technical specifications, Mang said.

For more on BDO or MA visit ICIS chemical intelligence
Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives in Green Chemicals
To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Al Greenwood
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