InterviewUS Genomatica expects others to join bio-BD programme

22 October 2012 21:44  [Source: ICIS news]

NEW YORK (ICIS)--US renewable chemical process technology firm Genomatica expects more partners for its bio-butadiene (BD) programme, following its partnership with Italy-based chemical producer Versalis and bioplastics company Novamont, the chief executive said on Monday.

“We expect other major players to join our bio-BD programme as we are seeing quite a lot of interest,” said Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica.

“We’re having conversations with just about every BD producer, consumer or downstream derivative consumer across the value chain,” he added.

In July, Genomatica announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Versalis and Novamont to form a partnership in bio-BD.

The three partners aim to form a licensing joint venture that develops a comprehensive process technology and engineering package to companies for the production of BD from biomass.

Versalis would also be the first licensee of this technology to build a bio-based BD plant. Its elastomers business is a major consumer of BD.

The next step in the BD partnership with Versalis and Novamont would be to sign a definitive agreement, but Schilling would not provide a timeframe for this.

Compared with Genomatica’s first programme in butanediol (BDO) introduced in September 2008, where the company had to actively reach out to potential partners, the bio-BD programme has attracted interest on its own, said the CEO.

“We didn’t have to go out. People came to us,” Schilling said.

“This reflects the dynamics of the BD market as well as the credibility we have established in BDO. People believe that it is possible,” he added.

Genomatica aims to develop process technology for the production of commodity chemicals that will beat conventional processes on a cost basis, the CEO said.

“It’s all about achieving significant cost leadership positions with partners – both in terms of capital investment and operating costs,’ said Schilling.

“We’re looking for better economics – not just to label something green,” he added.

The company also plans to “unlock a broad range of feedstocks” to achieve lower costs.

“The ideal biomass is inexpensive biomass. This can range from purpose-grown energy crops such as switchgrass and energy cane, to straw, depending on geographic region,” said Schilling.

Meanwhile, on the BDO front, Genomatica’s joint venture project with Novamont to convert a plant in Adria, Italy, to 40m lb/year (18,000 tonnes/year) of bio-BDO production, is on track for completion towards the end of 2013, he noted.

While Genomatica owns 20% of the BDO venture, with Novamont owning 80%, it is not contributing any capital to the project.

Rather, its 20% equity stake represents the value of its BDO process technology, Schilling explained.

“Our model is based on licensing. We don’t put in any capital for projects,” he said.

The BDO plant in Italy will use conventional sugar feedstocks – most likely dextrose from corn. However, Genomatica eventually plans to be able to produce BDO from biomass, said Schilling.

In August, Genomatica pulled its planned initial public offering (IPO) in the face of difficult equity market conditions for bio-based chemical companies. Instead it announced it had raised $41.5m (€32.0m) in a private financing deal.

“We have no burning desire to go public. It was just one of many options to raise capital. However, I wouldn’t rule out an IPO in the future,” Schilling said.

($1 = €0.77)

By: Joseph Chang
+1 713 525 2653

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