Bio-materials scale-up continues

17 January 2013 19:50  [Source: ICB]

As interest in bio-based routes to chemicals mounts (see the ICIS/Genomatica survey results), technology developers continue to step up investment efforts and move towards demonstration or commercial production. Recent months have seen a spate of announcements from developers and their chemical industry partners.

Reverdia, the joint venture between Dutch life sciences and materials sciences company DSM and France's Roquette Freres, a global producer of starch and starch derivatives, has just begun operations at its Cassano Spinola facility in Italy, where it is now producing sustainable succinic acid on a commercial scale.

Bio-scientist Rex Features

Rex Features

Technology developers are bolstering investment to bring bio-based materials such as sustainable succinic acid into production

The plant has the capacity to produce 10,000 tonnes/year of Biosuccinium, as Reverdia has branded its innovative material, which is made using low-pH yeast technology. This has been proven on a 300 tonne/year demonstration facility in Lestrem, France.

Key applications for Biosuccinium, says Reverdia, include polybutylene succinate (PBS), polyester polyols for polyurethanes (PU), coating and composite resins, phthalate-free plasticisers and 1,4-butanediol (BDO).

Says Reverdia's general manager, Will van den Tweel, "The new phase will enable direct and indirect customers to start production of commercial-scale volumes of materials and end products based on bio-succinic acid." Reverdia revealed in October that it has appointed German trader and distributor Helm to provide distribution and market development services for Biosuccinium in Europe.

US-based Solazyme has also been moving towards large-scale production of renewable oils and bioproducts from plant sugars, in both the US and Brazil. Just before the 2012 year end it revealed it had successfully scaled up its renewable oil fermentation process to 500,000 litres at the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) facility in Clinton, Iowa.

Solazyme is initially targeting production of some 20,000 tonnes/year of oil starting in early 2014 at the ADM facility, with expansion to 100,000 tonnes/year planned. Solazyme signed an agreement in November 2012 to use the ADM facility, which was previously used to make polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) for Metabolix, but has been idle since the start of 2012.

The scale achieved in the Clinton facility is comparable to the fermentation capability currently under construction at the Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils facility in Moema, Brazil. Construction of this 100,000 tonne/year capacity facility was begun in June 2012 and the plant is on schedule to begin operation in the fourth quarter of 2014, says Solazyme. The company is also developing commercial facilities in France.

Solazyme and Bunge Global Innovation, part of Brazil's agribusiness and food company, Bunge, signed a joint venture expansion agreement in November last year, that will see manufacturing of oil increase to 300,000 tonnes/year by 2016, utilising the facility now under construction and other selected Bunge owned and operated processing facilities worldwide. The two partners will also expand the range of oils produced by the joint venture in Brazil, including certain tailored food oils for sale in the country.

Also currently bringing production up to commercial scale is US-based Amyris, which is now in the final stages of commissioning its first purpose-built facility to make farnasene, in Paraiso, Brazil. Operation is expected early this year, with the plant capable of producing 50m litres/year once fully operational.

The company has appointed Charles Kraft as vice president of global manufacturing and process development to "help take our industrial manufacturing capabilities to the next phase." This will focus on continuous operation improvement and process optimisation as the scale-up continues.

Amyris converts plant sugars using fermentation with yeast strains into a variety of hydrocarbon molecules, including farnasene, artemisinic acid and a fragrance ingredient. It is commercialising the farnasene as Biofene and other products under the No Compromise brand for use in cosmetics, flavours and fragrances, polymers, lubricants and consumer products, as well as renewable diesel and jet fuel.

For the latter products, Amyris recently enhanced its strategic partnership with Total, with the French oil major committing $82m (€63m) funding to Biofene fuels over the next three years.

In China, New Zealand's LanzaTech, which uses waste carbon monoxide and dioxide streams to make low-carbon chemicals and fuels, says it has just achieved a major milestone at the Baosteel steel plant just outside Shanghai. The 100,000 gal/year (300 tonnes/year) facility to convert off-gases from the steel mill into ethanol has run successfully, proving the technology at a significantly larger scale than previously used.

LanzaTech describes the current Baosteel facility as "pre-commercial" but says that the Chinese authorities have given the go-ahead for a full-scale plant to be built this year as a result of the successful trials. A joint venture, Shanghai Baosteel LanzaTech New Energy, created in 2011, will commercialise the technology across China, where it has enormous potential, says Baosteel.

In October last year, Malaysia's state oil firm Petronas said it will work with LanzaTech to develop and commercialise technologies that will convert carbon dioxide (CO2) and natural gas into sustainable chemicals, including acetic acid. "Waste CO2 from Petronas operations will be captured by LanzaTech's process to create economic routes to acetic acid," LanzaTech said in a statement.

The joint development agreement builds on the relationship established earlier this year when Petronas Technology Ventures invested in LanzaTech as part of its Series C fund raising round.


Concerns over supply scarcity and price volatility, combined with the anticipated increase in demand, have fuelled efforts to develop sustainable production of butadiene (BD). Some 10m tonnes/year of BD is currently produced from oil in a market worth over $20bn (€15bn). The past year has seen some significant advances.

Industrial biology firm Global Bioenergies has combined efforts with rubber producer Synthos and discovered of method of converting renewable feedstock into BD. In July 2011, a strategic partnership was formed with the first phase focused on conversion through a direct, gaseous fermentation process. With this now complete and the process proven, the development phase is now underway.

With BD also a key intermediate for Versalis's elastomers business, the Italian producer announced a joint venture last July together with technology developer Genomatica and renewables firm Novamont to produce polymer-grade BD from biomass. Versalis will hold a majority interest in the collaboration and is aiming to be the first to build commercial plants using the process technology. The technology aspect of the agreement is intended to be made available for future licensing in Europe, Africa ­and Asia.

Meanwhile, Japan's Ajinomoto and tyre ­manufacturer Bridgestone are working together to commercialise synthetic rubber for tyres ­using bio-based isoprene, a raw material produced using fermentation technology from biomass.

Since signing the research agreement in June 2011, Ajinomoto has manufactured bio-based isoprene at laboratory scale using a fermentation process from biomass raw material. Bridgestone has also successfully produced synthetic rubber (polyisoprene) from the bio-based isoprene.


  • Myriant progresses with proprietary bio-acrylic acid process Myriant announced last March that it was developing a proprietary process to produce bio-acrylic acid. It filed for patent protection for the process and planned to start scaling up to supply samples to customers in the second half of 2012. The producer said it believed its bio-acrylic acid would be cost competitive compared with petroleum-based acrylic acid without the need for government subsidies or green premiums. With global propylene supplies becoming constrained amid pricing volatility, demand is rising for acrylic acid from renewable feedstocks, it said.
  • Biodegradable PBS tech Engineering firm Uhde Inventa-Fischer expanded its portfolio to include polybutylene succinate (PBS) technology last May. The PBS biopolymer - produced from succinic acid and butanediol (BDO) in a continuous polycondensation process - uses the firm's proprietary process. It is offering its customers plants with capacities of at least 40,000 tonnes/year of PBS polymer.
  • Gevo/Beta joint venture for bio-based isobutanol In July 2012, Gevo signed an agreement with Beta Renewables - a joint venture between Chemtex and TPG -- to develop an integrated process to produce bio-based isobutanol (bio-IBA) from cellulosic, non-food biomass. Combining Beta and Gevo's technologies, production plants are expected to be built depending on the availability of cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass, miscanthus, agriculture residues and other biomass. The project should also see commercialisation of the technology, which could enable renewably sourced, competitively priced jet fuel as well as other chemicals and fuels made from IBA.
  • Catalysts deal for Evonik and BioAmber Evonik Industries' catalysts business joined forces with BioAmber in July 2012 to develop and manufacture catalysts to make BDO (1,4- butanediol), THF (tetrahydrofuran) and GBL (gamma-butyrolactone) from bio-based succinic acid. Used in applications such as polymers, paints, adhesives and solvents, the global market for these products currently made from petrochemicals is $4bn (€3bn).


Author: John Baker and Andy Brice

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