Green Chemicals: Bio-BDO commercialization to start in 2013

12 September 2011 00:00  [Source: ICB]


Most bio-BDO developments use sugar for feedstock
Renewable chemical companies are now ready to build bio-BDO production on a commercial scale 

The global 1,4-butanediol (BDO) market is in "wait-and-see" mode regarding potential market impacts of renewable-based BDO in the supply chain. Last month, US renewable chemical firms Genomatica and BioAmber both finally announced details of planned commercial-scale bio-BDO plant construction - one in North America and another in Europe.

Genomatica expects its first commercial-scale bio-BDO plant to have a capacity of 40m lb/year (18,144 tonnes/year) by the end of 2012. The facility will be at an industrial site in Italy and be owned and operated by its new joint-venture partner Novamont, an Italian bioplastic producer which will provide the capital needed to build the plant and buy the BDO output. Genomatica said it will have an option on a portion of the bio-BDO production.

According to Genomatica's S-1 filing for an IPO (initial public offering) with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, it intends to have plants of 100m lb (45,360 tonnes) or greater in the US, Europe and Asia, slated to begin production in 2014-2015. Genomatica has partnered with Japan-based Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. (MCC) to explore commercial bio-BDO production in Asia. Industry sources note that MCC wants to build a 40,000-50,000 tonne/year bio-BDO plant in Asia by 2015.

Genomatica has demonstration-scale bio-BDO production in Decatur, Illinois, US, owned and operated by food ingredients firm Tate & Lyle.

The companies also agreed to explore potential for a commercial-scale plant in North America using dextrose sugar feedstock supplied by Tate & Lyle for the initial production.

US producers BioAmber and Myriant Technologies both have plans to enter the bio-BDO market using their bio-succinic acid as feedstock. BioAmber plans to have 23,000 tonnes/year of bio-BDO capacity by 2014 at its newly chosen site in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, using a succinic acid-to-BDO technology exclusively licensed from US chemical company DuPont.

The Sarnia plant will have initial bio-succinic acid capacity of 17,000 tonnes/year by 2013, and 35,000 tonnes/year by 2014. The plant will be operated by BioAmber's new Canadian subsidiary Bluewater Biochemicals.

BioAmber president Jean-Francois Huc said the company will sell its bio-BDO to the merchant market, although its focus is to secure long-term customers and partners for the consumption of its renewable BDO and coproducts tetrahydrofuran (THF) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL).

"There are challenges for any new company selling into an existing market," he said. "We believe we can penetrate the merchant market by offering renewable BDO/THF that has the same quality and is priced on par with petroleum-based products. Having a strong distribution partner like Japan-based Mitsui & Co. would also facilitate market entry."

Myriant is partnering with UK engineering company Davy Process Technology to produce BDO, THF and GBL using Myriant's bio-succinic acid. The partnership will focus on engineering a process to produce BDO directly from the purified fermentation broth, which will avoid recovery and purification requirements of succinic acid, according to Myriant's senior director of specialty chemicals Alif Saleh.

Myriant noted in its own S-1 IPO filing in May that it has a memorandum of understanding with China National BlueStar - one of Davy's BDO licensees - for a proposed jointly-owned 220m lb/year bio-succinic acid plant in Nanjing, China. The agreement also includes exclusive supply of bio-succinic acid to BlueStar. A timeline for the proposed project has not been disclosed.

According to Myriant, Davy's BDO technology uses petroleum-based maleic anhydride (MA) for feedstock and accounted for more than half a million tonnes/year of BDO production.

Reverdia, a joint venture between Dutch chemical company DSM and French starch derivatives producer Roquette, may also enter the bio-BDO market as it builds a 10,000 tonne/year bio-succinic acid facility at Roquette's Cassano Spinola site in Italy.

The plant is expected to come onstream in the second half of 2012. In an interview with ICIS in May, DSM said it intends to expand the plant's capacity in the future to include BDO, THF and GBL. DSM would also consider a licensing option for succinic acid applications such as BDO with the right partner.

German chemical company BASF and Dutch starch derivatives firm Purac are also on the verge of forming a joint venture to produce and operate a 25,000 tonne/year bio-succinic acid plant in Barcelona, Spain.

The facility is slated to start by 2013. The companies are also planning another world-scale bio-succinic acid plant with a capacity of 50,000 tonnes/year.

One of the catalysts for the current interest in bio-BDO is the desire to reduce the use of petroleum-based feedstocks because of crude oil price volatility, and to improve the environmental footprint of the BDO process.

However, BDO consumers and buyers are interested in cost-economic, bio-based materials given the market's current tight supply and the concentration of BDO supply worldwide.

About two-thirds of BDO produced worldwide is captive material and the remaining third is sold on the open merchant market. US-based consulting firm Nexant Chemsystems pegged global demand for petrochemical-based BDO at 1.4m tonnes in 2010. BDO's average annual growth rate is projected at 4.8% until 2015.

"Biological routes to BDO are being perfected, which offer tremendous promise to new participants but threaten to dramatically alter the business from the perspective of established producers," Nexant senior research analyst Marisabel Dolan said.

Nexant will soon initiate a study this year to analyze various bio-BDO technologies. The report will provide comparison of the technology, economics and potential markets for bio-BDO.

"The opportunities are of such great magnitude that even established participants are taking a hard look," Dolan said.

By: Doris de Guzman
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