US Dow, biotech firm seek to develop new acrylic acid process

11 April 2011 20:12  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--US-based Dow Chemical and OPX Biotechnologies are developing an industrial-scale process for producing a bio-based acrylic acid using a sugar derived from corn or sugarcane, the companies said on Monday.

The companies signed a joint agreement to determine the technical and economic viability of the process beyond successful pilot-scale production of acrylic acid in 2009 using OPX technology.

If their effort succeeds, bio-based acrylic acid could be brought to the market in three to five years, the companies said.

Buyers welcomed news of green alternatives, but said its viability was still too distant, adding - without elaboration - that there are currently some petrochemical options currently being explored.

The pilot-scale programme lasted about 18 months, and was analysed by Symbiotic Engineering, a Colorado-based greenhouse gas and sustainability company.

Symbiotic said that testing of the pilot-scale results indicated OPX’s production process could reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared with current petroleum-based acrylic acid production.

“The estimated greenhouse gas emissions savings vary a bit based on the feedstock for the bio-acrylic acid production,” said Michael Whitaker, a principal at Symbiotic, “but the value of 70%… is a fair representation of the median results.”

The company would not predict what the results might be at industrial production levels.

Interest in green alternatives began to surface after supply constraints plagued the US acrylates market in 2004 and 2005, but it has heightened again due to short acrylates supply and rapidly escalating prices during the past year.

Prices have risen by 70-75% since January 2010, when a spate of unplanned outages that began in December 2009 severely constrained supply, even as demand had begun to improve.

Major producers of acrylates in the US include Arkema, Dow and BASF.

For more on acrylic acid and acrylate esters, visit ICIS chemical intelligence

By: Larry Terry
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