Innovation Awards: Fast track to the market

17 October 2011 09:00  [Source: ICB]


 BioAmber's plant in France produces 3,000 tonnes/year of succinic acid

Copyright: BioAmber

BioAmber won this year's award for Best Business Innovation for its use of open innovation and partnerships to speed bio-succinic acid development

Renewable chemistry company BioAmber was first to market with bio-based succinic acid and an associated portfolio of sustainable chemicals and polymers. The firm operates a 3,000 tonne/year facility in Pomacle, France, the world's only commercial-scale bio-based succinic acid plant, and has recently entered agreements for the construction of significantly larger plants in Thailand and Canada.

The company, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US has only 30 full-time employees, across a range of science and technology specialities, but counts an additional 50 full-time equivalents working with its partners in implementing the open innovation strategy that has been a pillar of its success.

BioAmber was established as a joint venture between US-based Diversified Natural Products (DNP) and French firm Agro-industrie Recherches et Développements (ARD) in 2008. DNP had previously licensed E. coli technology used in the fermentation process from the US Department of Energy and ARD had the plant infrastructure and experience needed to scale up DNP's biotechnology.

A new plant was built by ARD in 2009 with the capacity to produce 2,000 tonnes/year of succinic acid. Thanks to improvements in technology, this has increased to approximately 3,000 tonnes/year. In October 2010, DNP acquired ARD's share in the venture for an equity stake in the company, and DNP changed its name to BioAmber.

BioAmber's open innovation approach is not limited to science and technology, says CEO Jean-Francois Huc: "At the same time as we were scaling up the production, we were working closely with a number of prospective customers on potential applications for bio-succinic acid and its derivatives that could be used to replace traditional chemicals in various processes to build future commercial demand.

"The greatest milestones in the development of the process have been in scaling it up," says Huc. E. coli is often used as it offers speed in development, but BioAmber is seeking to improve on the E. coli technology in the near term with a corynebacterium technology from Japan's Mitsubishi Chemical. It has also teamed up with US agri-giant Cargill to develop a yeast and has exclusive rights to use the yeast in the production of succinic acid. "We got to the market first with good technology, and now we're developing great technology," says Huc.

Another milestone was in the purification stage. Huc says: "At batch scale, purification is relatively straightforward, but when the process is scaled up and becomes continuous, there are a number of parameters that need to be controlled together. Downstream processing can account for as much as 60% of manufacturing costs."

BioAmber developed an entirely new process to remove byproducts in purification with West Virginia-based Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research and Innovation Center. This work achieved a cut in capital expenditures of more than one-third and a 20% drop in current expenditures.

In 2010, BioAmber secured rights to a DuPont technology that transforms succinic acid into bio-based 1,4-butanediol (BDO) and tetrahydrofuran (THF). In the same year, it acquired a controlling stake in Sinoven Bio-polymers, which has an innovative technology that modifies polybutylene succinate (PBS).

The company is leveraging its succinic acid experience to develop bio-based adipic acid and other C6 chemicals and has licensed a metabolic pathway from US bio-engineering company Celexion to accelerate development.

In Asia, BioAmber has an exclusive agreement with Japan's Mitsubishi Chemical to supply bio-based succinic acid for its PBS production. In September, it entered into a partnership with PTTMCC, a joint venture between Mitsubishi Chemical and Thailand's PTT, for a PBS plant in Thailand to come on stream in 2014.

BioAmber will build a bio-based succinic acid plant to supply PTTMCC. At peak capacity, it expects to produce 65,000 tonnes/year of succinic acid and 50,000 tonnes/year of BDO.

In August, BioAmber specified Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, as the location for its first North American bio-succinic acid plant, which will have an initial capacity of 17,000 tonnes/year. "With the announcement of the plants in Thailand and Sarnia, we are entering a new phase where engineering and manufacturing expertise will become critical complements to our science, technology and commercial disciplines," Huc concludes.

By: Mark Whitfield
+44 20 8652 3214

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