InterviewUS Rivertop to start up glucaric acid pilot plant in Q3

17 February 2011 01:53  [Source: ICIS news]

SAN DIEGO, California (ICIS)--US producer Rivertop Renewables plans to start up a pilot-scale plant for biomass-based glucaric acid in the third quarter of 2011, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

The plant will likely have a capacity of 100,000 lbs/year to showcase the company’s process development, CEO Jim Stoppert said on the sidelines of the Next Generation Bio-Based Chemicals Summit in San Diego.

“We can get in there and pretty quickly show its effectiveness,” Stoppert said.

Montana-based Rivertop plans to introduce its first glucaric acid product as a direct replacement for phosphates in detergent applications, which Stoppert said was a potential $10bn (€7.4bn) global market.

“This is an enormous opportunity,” Stoppert said. “If we even get a small part of that market, it can be really big.”

Stoppert said on Wednesday that Rivertop had one major detergent client which had already agreed to use its glucaric acid once supply is available.

To that end, Rivertop plans to start up its 60m lb/year commercial plant by late 2013, Stoppert said.

Glucaric acid, formed by oxidising glucose, is recognised by the US Department of Energy as one of the top building block chemicals that can be converted into a number of high-value, bio-based chemicals.

Rivertop has said it can produce glucaric acid using a low-risk, cost-economic multi-platform oxidation chemistry process.

Stoppert on Wednesday declined to discuss exact costs, but said the company had conducted research and believed its costs would be lower than any alternatives.

“When they first launched the company two-and-a-half years ago, the applications we’re working on now weren’t even on the radar screen,” said Stoppert, who was appointed Rivertop CEO last year.

“The focus back then was on polymers. But polymers are a long-term play, and through collaboration with other outside people, they determined that glucaric acid would be an ideal replacement for the detergent market and a great place to begin.”

To move forward, the company announced the hiring of Steve Donen as its vice president of process development and engineering, with an initial focus on moving glucaric acid from lab to higher-volume production.

From there, Stoppert plans to hire at least six more experienced industry veterans over the next six months, in preparation for the pilot plant’s launch.

Stoppert and Donen previously worked together at companies including Dow Chemical and NatureWorks.

We essentially have our own short-hand,” Stoppert quipped.

Rivertop also planned to develop the use of glucaric acid as a corrosion inhibitor for road and water treatment, as a building material additive, as a cosmetic exfoliant and, in the long-term, as a building block for polymers, it said.

The Bio-Based Chemical Summit ends on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Doris de Guzman

($1 = €0.74)

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By: Ben DuBose
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