Market outlook: Green revolutions gathers pace

07 June 2013 10:00  [Source: ICB]

Increasing demand and environmental pressures continue to fuel the development of bio-based chemicals among major chemical players

The green agenda is gaining momentum and chemical producers are placing an ever greater emphasis on bio-based products and sustainability in their portfolios. This increased impetus towards responsible chemistry has resulted in numerous projects and processes being unveiled in the past year alone.

 Copyright: Rex Features

Bio-based materials are finding their way into a multitude of applications, as diverse as the automotive and packaging sectors to agriculture and consumer electronics.

Last month, the newly appointed chairman of the European Bioplastics trade association, Francois de Bie, suggested that the bioplastics industry is on the brink of a revolution in terms of awareness and the use of its products. With an annual growth rate of more than 20%, the bioplastics industry is developing dynamically in a number of application fields, the trade association said.

"Bioplastics will help make this world a more sustainable place for now and for our future generations. In our society, many consumers, brand owners and converters are not yet aware of the benefits of bioplastics," said de Bie.

CAPACITY SURGE
With producers acknowledging the potential of these nascent technologies, investment in green and renewable products is climbing despite these tough economic times.

According to Germany's nova-Institut, there are around 20 bio-based projects due to start up through to 2015, involving the likes of BASF, Braskem and Dow Chemical.

In March the research firm published a report suggesting the production capacities of bio-based polymers are set to triple from 2011-2020.

Although bio-based polymer capacities had a meagre 1.5% share (3.5m tonnes/year) of the total 235m tonnes/year output in 2011, producers estimate this will soar to around 12m tonnes/year by the end of the decade. This would represent about 3% of the overall production of 400m tonnes/year.

Brazil's Braskem is among several leading producers to have set goals to improve its sustainability and environmental credentials, committing to the responsible use and production of its chemical products. Key strategic goals through to 2020 include a pledge to increase efficiency, to help reduce the impact of post-consumption plastic waste, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to be the largest producer of thermoplastic resins made from renewable raw materials.

Braskem already holds the mantle of the world's largest biopolymer producer and has recently announced the expansion of its renewable product portfolio with the launch of a new line of green low-density polyethylene (LDPE). It says it will produce 30,000 tonnes/year of the new resin, which will reach the market in January 2014. The thermoplastic resin is produced from sugarcane ethanol and boasts identical properties to conventional polyethylene.

"We believe low-density green polyethylene will meet the growing demand for materials made from renewable resources by enabling other applications in addition to the ones already available through current portfolio of Green Plastic. With this production capacity, we will be ready to meet a portion of the global demand for this resin," said Luciano Guidolin, vice president of the polyolefins and renewables unit.

Not to be outdone, BASF also recently unveiled several new projects to boost its green portfolio. Among its initiatives, the German major has established a license agreement with US firm Genomatica to use its patented process to produce 1,4-butanediol (BDO) using sugar as a renewable feedstock. There are plans to build a world-scale production plant for the renewable BDO (see page 40).

The packaging sector is attracting equal attention when it comes to green materials.

BASF has also added to its ecovio range of compostable and partially bio-based plastics, increasing its product line by adding new grades for thermoforming and injection moulding.

The plastic contains BASF's ecoflex compostable polyester as well as polylactic acid (PLA), a renewable raw material made from corn.

COLLABORATION IS KEY
Partnerships are increasingly prevalent in the world of green chemicals, with companies sharing expertise, costs and technologies.

Last October, BASF and Purac - a subsidiary of CSM - formed a joint venture to produce bio-based succinic acid as an economically and ecologically attractive alternative to conventional raw materials.

Demand for succinic acid is expected to grow strongly in the coming years, driven mainly by bioplastics, chemical intermediates, solvents, polyurethanes and plasticisers.

The forming of a Dusseldorf-headquartered joint venture called Succinity follows several years of research between BASF and CSM, and combines their strengths in fermentation and downstream processing.

An existing fermentation facility is currently being modified at Purac's Montmelo site near Barcelona, Spain, to produce 10,000 tonnes/year of succinic acid - due to start up later this year. Another 50,000 tonne/year plant is also planned to meet anticipated demand - although the partners say the final decision on the project will be made after a successful market introduction.

"Our strategy clearly focuses on innovations for a sustainable future. Chemistry-driven innovations are the responses to megatrends, such as the shift to renewable raw materials. The development of a succinic acid production process based on fermentation in cooperation with Purac is a good example of this strategy being put into practice," said Andreas Kreimeyer, member of the board of executive directors and research executive director of BASF.

US-based OPX Biotechnologies (OPXBIO) and Germany's Evonik Industries joined forces in May to develop bio-based specialty chemicals with a view to creating "economic and sustainable versions of products we use in our everyday lives", according to OPXBIO president and CEO, Charles Eggert.

The deal will make use of OPXBIO's proprietary EDGE (Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering) technology to develop the bio-processes, and allow them to market the products emanating from the collaboration.

In April, the polyamide and intermediates business of France's Solvay announced plans to invest in the production of bio-based polymer PA6.10 at its Saint-Fons Belle-Etoile unit. Christophe Bertrand, Solvay polyamide and intermediates industrial director, said the outlay was part of its "continuous efforts to build on our product capabilities and develop a greener chemistry".

The company said it marked the conclusion of a piloting and sampling process, the unit using state-of-the-art technologies and helping to broaden Solvay's product offering. Some 62.5% of the carbon of pure PA 6.10 resin is from a renewable source, the company said.

In March, Dutch specialty chemical firm DSM and its joint venture partners were the recipients of awards to mark their efforts in the development of biotechnologies. The Sustainable Biofuels Awards 2013 named US-based POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels as the winner of the Global Deal of the Year category, acknowledging its efforts to convert corn crop residue to cellulosic ethanol, license the technology to third parties and form a network of 26 corn ethanol plants.

Reverdia, DSM and Roquette's joint venture for the production of bio-based succinic acid was also announced the Partnership of the Year. Towards the end of 2012, Reverdia started operations at its plant in Cassano Spinola, Italy. The 10,000 tonnes/year unit produces Biosuccinium sustainable succinic acid and is the largest facility of its kind.

Bio-based chemicals and sustainable product development is at the centre of DSM's business strategy. The company recently added a new high performance resin system, Beyone 1, to its range. This is not only free of styrene and cobalt, but about 40% of its raw materials are based on renewable resources.

DSM says it believes the bio-based economy "has reached a tipping point in its development". Clearly, many other leading producers share the same opinion.

Over the past few decades, factors such as energy scarcity, population growth, changing climates and sustainability have combined to give credence to the advancement of green-based and renewable products. With the technology now viable and the financial and environmental benefits clear, the green revolution is certainly gathering pace.

The green agenda is gaining momentum and chemical producers are placing an ever greater emphasis on bio-based products and sustainability in their portfolios. This increased impetus towards responsible chemistry has resulted in numerous projects and processes being unveiled in the past year alone.

Bio-based materials are finding their way into a multitude of applications, as diverse as the automotive and packaging sectors to agriculture and consumer electronics.

Last month, the newly appointed chairman of the European Bioplastics trade association, Francois de Bie, suggested that the bioplastics industry is on the brink of a revolution in terms of awareness and the use of its products. With an annual growth rate of more than 20%, the bioplastics industry is developing dynamically in a number of application fields, the trade association said.

"Bioplastics will help make this world a more sustainable place for now and for our future generations. In our society, many consumers, brand owners and converters are not yet aware of the benefits of bioplastics," said de Bie.

CAPACITY SURGE
With producers acknowledging the potential of these nascent technologies, investment in green and renewable products is climbing despite these tough economic times.

According to Germany's nova-Institute, there are around 20 bio-based projects due to start up through to 2015, involving the likes of BASF, Braskem and Dow Chemical.

In March the research firm published a report suggesting the production capacities of bio-based polymers are set to triple from 2011-2020.

Although bio-based polymer capacities had a meagre 1.5% share (3.5m tonnes/year) of the total 235m tonnes/year output in 2011, producers estimate this will soar to around 12m tonnes/year by the end of the decade. This would represent about 3% of the overall production of 400m tonnes/year.

Brazil's Braskem is among several leading producers to have set goals to improve its sustainability and environmental credentials, committing to the responsible use and production of its chemical products. Key strategic goals through to 2020 include a pledge to increase efficiency, to help reduce the impact of post-consumption plastic waste, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to be the largest producer of thermoplastic resins made from renewable raw materials.

Braskem already holds the mantle of the world's largest biopolymer producer and has recently announced the expansion of its renewable product portfolio with the launch of a new line of green low-density polyethylene (LDPE). It says it will produce 30,000 tonnes/year of the new resin, which will reach the market in January 2014. The thermoplastic resin is produced from sugarcane ethanol and boasts identical properties to conventional polyethylene.

"We believe low-density green polyethylene will meet the growing demand for materials made from renewable resources by enabling other applications in addition to the ones already available through current portfolio of Green Plastic. With this production capacity, we will be ready to meet a portion of the global demand for this resin," said Luciano Guidolin, vice president of the polyolefins and renewables unit.

Not to be outdone, BASF also recently unveiled several new projects to boost its green portfolio.

Among its initiatives, the German major has established a license agreement with US firm Genomatica to use its patented process to produce 1,4-butanediol (BDO) using sugar as a renewable feedstock. There are plans to build a world-scale production plant for the renewable BDO (see page **).

The packaging sector is attracting equal attention when it comes to green materials. BASF has also added to its ecovio range of compostable and partially bio-based plastics, increasing its product line by adding new grades for thermoforming and injection moulding. The plastic contains BASF's ecoflex compostable polyester as well as polylactic acid (PLA), a renewable raw material made from corn.

COLLABORATION IS KEY
Partnerships are increasingly prevalent in the world of green chemicals, with companies sharing expertise, costs and technologies.

Last October, BASF and Purac - a subsidiary of CSM - formed a joint venture to produce bio-based succinic acid as an economically and ecologically attractive alternative to conventional raw materials. Demand for succinic acid is expected to grow strongly in the coming years, driven mainly by bioplastics, chemical intermediates, solvents, polyurethanes and plasticisers.

The forming of a Dusseldorf-headquartered joint venture called Succinity follows several years of research between BASF and CSM, and combines their strengths in fermentation and downstream processing.

An existing fermentation facility is currently being modified at Purac's Montmelo site near Barcelona, Spain, to produce 10,000 tonnes/year of succinic acid - due to start up later this year. Another 50,000 tonne/year plant is also planned to meet anticipated demand - although the partners say the final decision on the project will be made after a successful market introduction.

"Our strategy clearly focuses on innovations for a sustainable future. Chemistry-driven innovations are the responses to megatrends, such as the shift to renewable raw materials. The development of a succinic acid production process based on fermentation in cooperation with Purac is a good example of this strategy being put into practice," said Andreas Kreimeyer, member of the board of executive directors and research executive director of BASF.

US-based OPX Biotechnologies (OPXBIO) and Germany's Evonik Industries joined forces in May to develop bio-based specialty chemicals with a view to creating "economic and sustainable versions of products we use in our everyday lives", according to OPXBIO president and CEO, Charles Eggert.

The deal will make use of OPXBIO's proprietary EDGE (Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering) technology to develop the bio-processes, and allow them to market the products emanating from the collaboration.

In April, the polyamide and intermediates business of France's Solvay announced plans to invest in the production of bio-based polymer PA6.10 at its Saint-Fons Belle-Etoile unit. Christophe Bertrand, Solvay polyamide and intermediates industrial director, said the outlay was part of its "continuous efforts to build on our product capabilities and develop a greener chemistry".

The company said it marked the conclusion of a piloting and sampling process, the unit using state-of-the-art technologies and helping to broaden Solvay's product offering. Some 62.5% of the carbon of pure PA 6.10 resin is from a renewable source, the company said.

In March, Dutch specialty chemical firm DSM and its joint venture partners were the recipients of awards to mark their efforts in the development of biotechnologies. The Sustainable Biofuels Awards 2013 named US-based POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels as the winner of the Global Deal of the Year category, acknowledging its efforts to convert corn crop residue to cellulosic ethanol, license the technology to third parties and form a network of 26 corn ethanol plants.

Reverdia, DSM and Roquette's joint venture for the production of bio-based succinic acid was also announced the Partnership of the Year. Towards the end of 2012, Reverdia started operations at its plant in Cassano Spinola, Italy. The 10,000 tonnes/year unit produces Biosuccinium sustainable succinic acid and is the largest facility of its kind.

Bio-based chemicals and sustainable product development is at the centre of DSM's business strategy. The company recently added a new high performance resin system, Beyone 1, to its range. This is not only free of styrene and cobalt, but about 40% of its raw materials are based on renewable resources.

DSM says it believes the bio-based economy "has reached a tipping point in its development". Clearly, many other leading producers share the same opinion.

Over the past few decades, factors such as energy scarcity, population growth, changing climates and sustainability have combined to give credence to the advancement of green-based and renewable products. With the technology now viable and the financial and environmental benefits clear, the green revolution is certainly gathering pace.


By: Andy Brice
+44 20 8652 3214



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