InterviewOPXBIO seeks 50-60ktonne/year for 1st bio-acrylic plant

07 August 2013 22:22  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joseph Chang

NEW YORK (ICIS)--US-based renewable chemicals company OPX Biotechnologies (OPXBIO) is aiming to build a 50,000-60,000 tonne/year bio-based acrylic acid plant with partner Dow Chemical, OPXBIO’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

“We see the world’s first bio-acrylic plant to be around this size, using corn sugar or sugarcane as feedstock. We are targeting start-up in 2017,” said Charles Eggert, president and CEO of OPXBIO.

“Ultimately we will transition to cellulosic feedstock as that technology becomes more established. A second bio-acrylic plant could be based on cellulosic and on par with a world-scale petroleum-based acrylic acid plant at up to 150,000 tonnes/year,” he added.

In 2011, OPXBIO and US-based Dow announced a joint development agreement to commercialise bio-based acrylic acid as a drop-in replacement for petroleum-based acrylic acid.

The companies have a mutually exclusive agreement for the development of bio-based acrylic acid using OPXBIO's technology.

OPXBIO is within 20% of its target in terms of yield from its proprietary genetically developed microbes, said Eggert.

In the company’s bio-acrylic acid process, sugar is fermented with the engineered microbes to produce 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP). The 3-HP is then recovered through a chemical process to yield acrylic acid.

“We are optimising the strain to boost 3-HP yield while Dow is focused on the downstream conversion step,” said Eggert.

OPXBIO would be a joint venture partner in the bio-based acrylic acid plant along with Dow, being involved in the capitalisation, design and construction of the facility.

Its business model contrasts with a licensing model where other bio-based chemical companies simply license their technology to the producer.

The site of the planned plant has yet to be determined, but could be close to either feedstock sources or to the companies’ technical resources. Potential locations include North or South America, or southeast Asia, noted Eggert.

On a cost basis, Eggert maintains that bio-based product must ultimately be at least on par with that of petroleum-based product.

“That is the absolute minimum requirement. However, in the early days when bio-based supply is scarce with just one or two plants, we expect demand for renewable acrylic acid to exceed supply so this could impact price,” said Eggert.

OPXBIO’s initial cost target is around $1/lb (€1.65/kg) for bio-based acrylic acid, but this could fall as the process is fully optimised in the long term, he added.

Ultimately, the bio-based acrylic acid could be sold on the merchant market, or modified and converted to downstream products.

Major end markets for acrylic acid include paints, diapers and polymers.

($1 = €0.75)

By: Joseph Chang
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