Green Chemicals: DSM adds adipic acid to bio-based chemicals portfolio

10 October 2011 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Netherlands-based material sciences and life sciences firm DSM plans to enter the $5bn (€3.7bn) global adipic acid market with a bio-based alternative in the next five years.

The inception for DSM's renewable adipic acid project was in early 2009 and several patents were filed as a result, said James Iademarco, DSM vice president for Bio-based Chemicals, in an interview with ICIS. The project became a fully resourced program within DSM last year.

DSM plant
 DSM's bio-based chemicals portfolio will include succinic and adipic acids
"It is beyond the feasibility stage and is now entering development phase," he said. "This is a large drop-in market where we felt we have multiple proprietary routes available that not only could provide a cost-advantage in some key areas but could also significantly improve adipic acid's carbon footprint. Adipic acid is also a nice strategic fit in some of our internal business groups that purchase adipic acid."

DSM is looking to commercially produce drop-in bio-based adipic acid through several partnerships that will span along the value chain. Around 60% of the 2.5m tonne/year global adipic acid market is consumed for polyamide 6,6 (Nylon 6,6) production, said Iademarco. Around 25% goes into polyester polyols.

Renewable adipic acid could further strengthen DSM's position in performance materials, said Iademarco. DSM has a worldwide leading position in caprolactam, the precursor to polyamide 6. A cost-advantaged and more sustainable route for adipic acid will offer significant value in DSM's key polyamide markets.

Adipic acid is produced by using cyclohexane feedstock. Iademarco said the industry has been searching for new process technologies that could lessen its carbon footprint.

"We are talking to a number of companies along the adipic acid value chain - from feedstock, biorefinery players, and people that are producing and consuming petroleum-based adipic acid," said Iademarco. "We believe we could be at the commercial stage producing at a scale of 100,000-150,000 tonnes/year around five years or more from now depending on a lot of factors such as if we need to build a demonstration plant or if we could possibly retrofit an existing asset."

He cited Europe, North America and Asia as having a greater market opportunity in terms of bio-adipic acid demand. Brazil was noted as a potential source of sustainable feedstock although DSM has also not ruled out Europe, US and Asia.


DSM is looking into both fermentation routes and chemo catalytic routes in producing renewable adipic acid.

US start-up firms such as Verdezyne, Rennovia, BioAmber and Genomatica are all also looking into producing bio-adipic acid, although DSM said it does not have formal collaborations with any of these companies.

DSM, however, made a strategic investment in Verdezyne in May 2011.

The company said it is impressed with Verdezyne's technology platform including their progress in C5 and C6 sugars.

"Its sugar platform has synergies with our biomass conversion technology for our second generation biofuels portfolio.

"We found it interesting that Verdezyne also has fermentation routes that could be promising but we don't have any formal collaboration with them on this product," Iademarco said.

Verdezyne has developed yeast that produces adipic acid in a single-step fermentation process using plant-based oils, paraffins and sugars as feedstock.

The company expects to start its pilot plant in California this year, and targets 2014-2015 for commercialization. Rennovia is running a kilogram-scale pilot production and targets initial commercial production in 2015. The company plans to use chemo-catalytic process to produce its bio-adipic acid using glucose for feedstock.

Late last year, Genomatica filed a patent on the fermentation-based production of bio-adipic acid using commercially-available sugars, while in March, BioAmber announced that it has entered an exclusive licensing deal with US-based technology firm CELEXION for the production of bio-adipic acid via a fermentation process. BioAmber has built an in-house research facility in Plymouth, Minnesota, US to support its adipic acid project.


Both DSM and BioAmber are also on the verge of starting their own global commercial-scale production of bio-succinic acid, which could also act as an intermediate for producing adipic acid.

DSM said it is not pursuing adipic acid production using the bio-succinic acid route although there are opportunities for succinic acid to replace adipic acid in certain applications such as in polyurethanes, resins, and plasticizers. "We don't think succinic acid, however, can substitute for adipic acid for polyamide 6,6 application because of performance," said Iademarco.

DSM is collaborating with France-based starch derivatives producer Roquette for their 10,000 tonne/year bio-succinic acid facility in Cassano Spinola, Italy, which is scheduled to start in the fourth quarter of 2012.

DSM produces petroleum-based succinic acid; the market is estimated at around 25,000 tonnes annually. DSM said most of the bio-succinic acid from their new plant will be going to customers who are currently sampling products from Roquette's bio-succinic acid demonstration facility in Lestrem, France.

"Unlike adipic acid, succinic acid is a relatively small market today and there's not a large captive use for it so we really need to look for external applications and some customer partnerships to get those market applications to take off," said Iademarco.

Polybutylene succinate (PBS) bioplastic, polyurethanes, and 1,4 butanediol (BDO) are some of the key emerging applications that are being developed for succinic acid, he added.

By: Doris de Guzman
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