FocusBiomass BD priced at $1,570/tonne could be ready by 2018

16 April 2013 23:17  [Source: ICIS news]

By Mark Yost

SAN FRANCISCO (ICIS)--Butadiene (BD) from biomass such as sugar could be here as soon as 2018 and competitively priced with current production methods, according to two consultants who spoke Tuesday at the International Institute for Synthetic Rubber Producers Annual General Meeting.

BD produced from something other than oil- and gas-based feedstocks is not a matter of if, but when, according to David Gogerty, a project manager for Global Bioenergies in Ames, Iowa, and Damien Perriman is vice president of business development for Genomatica in San Diego.

Gogerty was the most specific, saying that his firm estimates that BD produced from fermenting sugar would be priced – based upon current market conditions – at about $1,570/tonne (€1,210/tonne) and be ready for the market as early as 2018. The current contract US Gulf price for traditionally produced BD is $1,852/tonne.

Gogerty said his company and others are currently testing methodologies for producing BD from biomass. After they refine the process, they will take it to companies and look for investors.

While biomass BD is in its “initial stages,” Gogerty and Perriman said isobutene from biomass is much more advanced. Gogerty said that he expects that bio-based isobutene will be ready for industrial testing “in the next year or so.”

Gogerty and Perriman got some unexpected support from Mike Bloesch, vice president for strategic initiatives at TPC, who said that there is room in the market for bio-based BD, and TPC is among the market players exploring some of those options.

For instance, Bloesch noted that there is a process where butane is turned into butene and then made into BD.

“Now you can use sugar or biomass to get there,” Bloesch said, noting there are “several pathways” to get from biomass to BD.

“Because of this, butadiene has become somewhat more of an exciting area,” Bloesch said.

While Bloesch said he expects biomass BD to remain a sliver of the market, he said it is viable.

“None of these are based on oil,” Bloesch said. “But it also hasn’t been commercially proven. I expect some of these processes will be developed, but it will be many years away and challenging economically.”

BD producers are also looking at ethanol to BD.

“It’s a proven technology that’s being used on a small scale in China and India,” Bloesch said. “It’s low cost in terms of capital; however the selectivity of the process is only about 40%.”

But he noted that one byproduct of ethanol to BD is water. “It’s a fairly expensive process to convert ethanol to water and get some BD,” he said.

“Choice of feedstock is going to be what sets the price of butadiene more than the actual operating costs themselves,” Bloesch said.

“I couldn’t agree with that statement more,” said Genomatica’s Perriman. “And we’re betting that BD from biomass will be competitive enough to get some serious attention from the industry.” 

($1 = €0.77)

By: Mark Yost
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