InterviewUS Dow acrylates partnership aims for lowest cost

28 April 2011 20:44  [Source: ICIS news]

By Clay Boswell

(ICIS)--US-based Dow Chemical and OPX Biotechnologies (OPXBIO) aim to be the market’s lowest-cost producers of acrylic acid (AA) within four years, OPXBIO’s chief executive said on Thursday.

“Based on our pilot-scale work, the performance of the process in terms of production rate and yield from sugar allowed us to predict commercial-scale cost that is below the current cost of production for petro-based acrylic,” said Charles Eggert, president and CEO of OPXBIO in an interview with ICIS.

OPXBIO developed the new process using a proprietary technology platform called Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering (EDGE).

Dow and OPXBIO recently signed a joint development agreement aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of commercialising a bio-based process for the manufacture of AA.

“We have as the objective, and it looks like we can meet it, of being able to produce and sell bio-based acrylic that is performance equivalent without any kind of subsidy or underwriting of the cost,” Eggert said.

“This product will compete head to head on a cost and performance basis with petro-based acrylic,” he added.

With acrylate prices at record highs, commercialisation cannot come too soon.

According to OPXBIO’s analysis of its pilot results, the company should be able to produce bio-based glacial AA at commercial scale from corn dextrose at 50-70 cents/lb, and from cane sugar (sucrose) at 40-60 cents/lb. OPXBIO estimates today’s typical cost to produce petro-based acrylic acid at 75 cents/lb, assuming a propylene cost of 70 cents/lb.

The economics of bioacrylic would have an even greater advantage at current propylene prices. Monthly propylene contracts in the US surged 15 cents/lb for April, as assessed by ICIS, which put chemical grade at 86 cents/lb. March contracts for glacial AA were assessed at $1.38-1.43/lb, unchanged from February.

“With successful completion of the pilot-scale development stage, we need to move up to the larger demonstration scale. We believe it would be most valuable for OPXBIO to do that in a strategic partnership where that partner brings skills and abilities to accelerate our progress toward commercialisation,” Eggert said.

“We think Dow fits that bill nicely,” he added.

Dow’s contribution may be greatest in the second of the two steps entailed by OPXBIO’s process.

In the first step, engineered microorganisms convert sugar to 3-hydroxypropanoic acid (3-HP) in a fermenter. This sort of biotransformation is OPXBIO’s forte.

In the second step, however, 3-HP is catalytically dehydrated to yield AA, a strictly chemical transformation.

“Now we will begin to dial in Dow's world-class expertise for downstream chemical processing and catalytic conversion,” Eggert noted.

“Dow will focus especially on the conversion of 3-HP into bio-based acrylic, using their existing tools, facilities and capabilities,” he added.

Already a major player in acrylates, Dow also brings supply chain and marketing expertise to the partnership.

Assuming success, OPXBIO and Dow will discuss a plan to commercialise bio-based acrylic acid in the 2014-2016 time frame, said Eggert.

In past presentations, OPXBIO has described plans for a first production facility with 100m lbs/year capacity.

“We envision that following the start up and success of that initial commercial plant, subsequent plants could be two to four times that size,” he added.

($1 = €0.68)

For more on acrylic acid, visit ICIS chemical intelligence

By: Clay Boswell
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