Sugar fatty alcohols near commercialization

20 April 2012 10:41  [Source: ICB]

Developers of sugar-based surfactants expect commercialization by 2013-2015

Several US developers of sugar-based fatty alcohols are looking for funding sources as they gear up to compete in the global surfactants market in the next two to three years.

Copyright: RexFeatures 

 Copyright: RexFeatures

At the annual Jefferies Clean Technologies investor conference held in New York in February, US companies such as Solazyme, Codexis and LS9 showcased their fermentation technologies with sugar-based surfactants as one of their main focus areas.

This year, Codexis will focus on piloting its CodeXol detergent alcohol production, as well as developing new customers and manufacturing agreements for this first product in its chemical portfolio.

Codexis estimates the annual global market for detergent alcohols at $4bn, which represents approximately 2m tonnes at an average selling price of $2,000/tonne (€1,520/tonne).

The company has already produced samples of the C12-14 alcohols from its headquarters in Redwood City, California, and is looking to complete another run at its 650-liter pilot facility later this year, says Wes Bolsen, Codexis's chief marketing officer. The company is targeting commercial production capacity of fatty alcohols at 60,000 tonnes/year using microbial fermentation processing.

"We anticipate commissioning a commercial facility in 2015 to manufacture CodeXol," says Bolsen. "In order to achieve leading production economics and full sustainability advantages, Codexis - through its partnership with Italian engineering and technology firm Chemtex - is commercializing a fully integrated second-generation biomass-to-detergent alcohol process using Chemtex's pretreatment technology and Codexis' CodeXyme cellulase conversion enzymes."

Codexis plans to sell CodeXol detergent alcohols as a drop-in substitute for over 70% of the detergent alcohols market. "Codexis will work in partnership to manufacture the alcohols for use in shampoos, detergents and other household products," says Bolsen.

Detergent alcohols are manufactured using two alternative chemical processes - the oleochemical route, which uses vegetable oils such as palm, kernel and coconut oil as feedstock, and the synthetic route, which uses petrochemical-derived ethylene for feedstock. The majority of the surfactants derived from detergent alcohols are purchased by major consumer products companies such as US-based Procter & Gamble (P&G), Netherlands-based Unilever and Germany-based Henkel.

Both LS9 and Codexis use enzymes to microbially produce fatty alcohols from sugar feedstock. LS9 says it is looking for strong partners in the detergents and specialty chemicals space to commercialize its proprietary bio-catalysis technology for C10-C18 fatty alcohol production.

At the Jefferies conference, LS9 CEO Ed Dineen noted that the company had already shipped 1 tonne of crude fatty alcohol in September 2010 to P&G for sampling from LS9's pilot facility, at its San Francisco headquarters.

The company's research-and-development facility has a range of fermenters, from a five-liter model for process development to a 1,000-liter unit for scale-up testing.

This quarter, LS9 will commission its semi-commercial scale 135,000-liter fermenter in Okeechobee, Florida, which can yield 700-1,000 tonnes/year of fatty alcohol, says Gary Juncosa, LS9's vice president of chemicals. In the future, the site also could place in service four fermenters - each with 750,000 liters of capacity. But the facility is mostly envisioned as a demo and scaling-up site.

"We have received funding both from private sources and from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). Our current plan is to build a larger semi-commercial facility with three fermenters - each with a 750,000 liter capacity - and scale up to 15-20 fermenters of that magnitude," says Juncosa.

"Following our catalyst optimization timeline, we plan to have full-scale production in 18 months. It is our strategy to follow this first facility in Brazil with additional sites soon after," he adds.

LS9's three 750,000-liter fermenters planned in Brazil could produce 10,000-25,000 tonnes/year of fatty alcohols, says Juncosa. A large-scale commercial facility is expected to have a capacity of 200,000 tonnes/year.

"We have plans for multiple sites so total capacity could be 200,000-500,000 tonnes/year in the full-scale phase at around the 2017-2018 time frame. Our first investment will be in sugar-producing regions with secure supplies in Latin America. Once commercialized, it is a natural expansion to invest in other raw material-rich regions in Asia, North America and Europe," Juncosa adds.

Solazyme is also looking at Brazil to produce its tailored algae-based triglyceride oils as feedstocks for surfactants. The company has entered into a formal joint-venture deal with US agribusiness firm Bunge to build a commercial-scale facility next to Bunge's Moema sugarcane mill in Brazil. It will produce triglyceride oils by the second half of 2013.

The joint venture, called Solazyme Bunge Produtos Renovaveis (SB Oils), aims to produce 100,000 tonnes/year of oils for oleochemical and fuel applications. Solazyme can modify the fatty acid composition and saturation of its oils such as specific C12-C18 chain lengths that are used as feedstocks for surfactant production.

Solazyme says an oleochemical facility utilizing its tailored oil rather than standard palm kernel oil could increase its output of the desired fatty acid components such as capric, lauric and myristic by more than 30%.

"Our platform enables, for the first time, the creation of oil profiles with specific carbon-chain lengths, saturation levels and functional groups.

This precise control of both chemical and physical properties enables the production of oil mimetics, enhanced oil compositions and novel oil compositions never previously commercially available," says Tim Dummer, senior director of business development at Solazyme.

"This means that a company has the ability to create entirely new types of surfactants with never before seen properties," he adds. One of its development partners, Unilever, has specified non-binding off-take terms for Solazyme's tailored oils that can be used in soap, personal care and nutritional products.

Solazyme says it has already manufactured more than 800,000 liters of renewable oils tailored for specific market applications. The company is sampling customer orders out of its pilot plant at South San Francisco, California, which has both 600-liter and 1,000-liter fermentation capacity.

"Our semi-commercial facility in Peoria, Illinois, with a 128,000 liter capacity is operational and is expecting downstream equipment to come online in the second half of 2012. This will provide us the ability to convert sugar to refined, bleached and deodorized oil in one location," says Dummer.

"All of the oils produced in these facilities, including the one in Brazil, can be easily converted through biological or chemical routes to numerous value-added products such as surfactants, lubricants and plasticizers," he adds.

Another US company placing its stake in Brazil and also focusing on the surfactants market is Amyris. The company's sugar-based farnesene molecule trademarked Biofene can be used as feedstock to manufacture surfactants for use in detergents and personal care applications.

The company is collaborating with Indonesia-based Wilmar to develop and possibly produce surfactants that can replace nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), which according to Amyris, represents a market of more than $1bn/year. Amyris also has development collaborations with P&G and Method, another US-based consumer products company.

Amyris is operating three contract manufacturing facilities in the US, Brazil and Spain using 100,000-240,000 liter fermenters. The company is also building its first stand-alone, large-scale production facility in Sao Paulo, Brazil, through its joint venture with Usina Sao Martinho, a sugar and ethanol producer. The estimated completion date for the facility will depend on the timing and availability of financing for the project, according to Amyris' earnings statement released on February 28.

Amyris stopped providing production forecasts in its quarterly earnings reports starting this year, noting that it will only provide production results and updates on its progress.

US bio-based chemicals firm Elevance Renewable Sciences is also entering the surfactants market to produce C16-C18 fatty acids and esters, as well as alpha olefins and other intermediate olefins for fatty alcohol feedstock using its metathesis technology - a chemical reaction that uses selective, highly efficient catalysts that can break down and re-combine molecules into new chemicals. The firm uses various plant oils for feedstock.

Elevance plans to have three commercial biorefineries by the end of 2014 with combined annual capacity of 1m tonnes/year.

According to the company's initial public offering update, filed with the US Securities and Exchange (SEC) Commission on March 9, Elevance plans to begin commercial operation of its 185,000 tonne/year biorefinery in Indonesia by the second quarter of 2012.

The biorefinery, which can be expanded to 370,000 tonnes/year, is part of Elevance's joint venture with Wilmar. Elevance is also repurposing an existing biodiesel facility in Natchez, Mississippi, into an integrated 280,000 tonne/year biorefinery, which is scheduled to start operating in the second half of 2013. Elevance expects its third biorefinery to be in South America.

The company is collaborating with US chemical firm Stepan to develop specialty surfactants using Elevance's technology. According to the IPO filing, Elevance intends to sell its intermediate chemicals into large existing markets as direct replacements for olefins and oleochemicals currently produced in traditional processes.

"Our oleochemicals portfolio can be sold as esters or converted into typical oleochemical intermediate chemicals such as fatty acids or fatty alcohols using a single processing step. We will also be able to produce oleochemicals as acids directly at the Indonesia facility," Elevance said.

"In addition, we are in discussions for off-take agreements for the entirety of our projected 2013 oleochemical production from the Natchez facility."

A newcomer on the biobased surfactants scene is Connecticut-based P2 Science, which is developing carbohydrate-based surfactants called cyclic C-glycosides (CCGs) that are being positioned primarily as co-surfactants to enhance the performance properties of surfactants such as linear alkylbenzene sulfonic acid, sodium alkyl (ether) sulfates, alcohol ethoxylates and similar products.

"CCGs are much more stable molecules than the other carbohydrated surfactants on the market today," says P2 Science CEO Neil Burns. "Evidence shows they are more efficient surfactants and emulsifiers enabling a more cost-effective application level. They are also excellent solubilizers and hydrotropes supporting their use as more efficient alternative emulsifiers in applications as diverse as cosmetics and oilfield."

P2 Science is working with a contract manufacturer for pilot stage production to support its product sampling program. "Based on this feedback from this sampling exercise, we will fine-tune the product range for commercialization. We then expect to be selling small quantities of product in 2013 with full commercialization in 2014," says Burns.

The company says it expects to be in the business as a manufacturer and is already talking to a number of potential partners at various points in the supply chain.

By: Doris de Guzman
+1 713 525 2653

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