InterviewUS Rivertop commercial scales of bio glucaric acid

19 June 2013 08:19  [Source: ICIS news]

MONTREAL, Canada (ICIS)--US renewable chemicals firm Rivertop has demonstrated the successful commercial scaling of its proprietary oxidation process in the production of biobased glucaric acid, an executive said on Tuesday.

Rivertop has spent the last five years fully developing the chemistry and manufacturing process of the technology, which forms glucaric acid by oxidising glucose found in plants, said John Monks, vice president of business development.

The company has tested it on a demonstration scale of 1,000 lbs and will be ready to market the technology in 10-14 months, with the first phase of commercialisation potentially reaching 10m lb, he said during an interview at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology conference.

Unlike traditional fermentation methods, Rivertop’s oxidation process for creating building blocks and high-value chemicals relies on more efficient chemistry, Monks said.

As a result, it is more predictable and versatile, giving it flexibility to use a variety of natural sugar feedstocks and modify formulas based on customers’ needs, he added.

Originally, Rivertop founder Don Kiely was researching a method of developing sugar acid-based building blocks for polymers.

“What he found was numerous applications for the mixture of sugar acids that came out of our process,” Monks said. “So the direction changed a little bit.”

Rivertop found that glucaric acid was a similar-performance and cost-effective replacement for phosphates, which has been banned in the US, particularly in the detergent market.

“With a lot of the key agents in detergent soap, the function is to fight calcium and magnesium ions,” Monks said. “The problem is a lot of builders bind those ions and other metal ions and hold on to them, and those metals are transferred through the wash cycle and into the drainage system and eventually into the ground.”

He added: “The advantage we have is our detergent builder is the fishing analogy of ‘catch and release’. It binds the ions when it washes the dishes, and as the pH drops at the end of the wash cycle, it releases those ions and is captured in the wastewater treatment, so they don’t end up in the groundwater.”

Citric acid is another substitute that is used, but twice as much is required to perform as well as glucaric acid, Monk said.

There are other alternatives that have been developed, but they are based on expensive chemistry so there are limits to their use, he added.

Rivertop is currently looking for partnerships with companies that want to use its glucaric acid in their products and is optimistic about the growing market.

“You have the big players that have been in the market for a long time,” Monks said. You have a new emerging green sector in the detergent industry that operate more for the sustainability and green platform. Then you have the value brands.”

He added: “They all have slightly different needs, and we have the flexibility to work with all of the customers to figure exactly how they would like to receive the product and how they would like to formulate the product into their detergent.”

Rivertop is “starting small” but sees opportunities in other applications in a variety of industries including the oil and gas sector, refining and downstream chemical applications, as well as the concrete industry that is looking to go more bio, Monks said.

The World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology conference runs through Wednesday.

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By: Tracy Dang
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