Green Biologics nears agreement on Minnesota butanol plant

24 September 2013 23:37  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)---Green Biologics is near finalising its agreement to buy an ethanol plant in Minnesota and retrofit the facility into the first commercial producer of renewable n-butanol in the US since the 1950s, the UK-based company said on Tuesday.

The plant, operated by the Central Minnesota Ethanol Cooperative (CMEC) in Little Falls is now producing 21m gal of corn-based ethanol a year.

Until the deal closes, CMEC will continue to run the ethanol plant at its current production. Green Biologics will begin butanol production, probably in late 2015 or early 2016, said Tim Staub, Green Biologics vice president of development.

Green Biologics now runs two butanol pilot demonstration facilities in Ohio and Iowa.

The company uses a clostridium fermentation-based production model to produce bio-n-butanol, a solvent used in paints, coatings, adhesives, inks, plastics, pharmaceuticals, food ingredients, household cleansers and personal care products.

N-butanol is a staple of the petrochemical industry, which uses propylene as a feedstock. Current estimates put annual global sales at above $80bn (€59bn). Major producers include Oxea, Eastman, BASF, ExxonMobil and others.

“This is an important step in the commercialization of bio-n-butanol,” said Sam Nejame, a Boston-based consultant to renewable chemicals and fuels industries. “Green Biologics will own the first commercial facility in North America, probably in the world.” 

Green Biologics last year merged with Buty Fuel LLC in 2012 to gain a foothold in North America. The company’s process can use various organic source materials, including corn, plant roughage and other materials.

Green Biologics is joining a growing number of producers turning toward butanol and away from ethanol, which has faced an uphill battle in a volatile market. Butanol has more combustible energy than ethanol and is seen as a superior fuel additive. It can also be used in further chemical processes to produce a variety of products.

Butamax, Gevo and Cobalt Technologies are all pursuing renewable butanol processes.

Their efforts come as butanol produced from the petroleum industry is becoming more expensive because of the rising cost and declining availability of propylene.

“If you're buying petro-based butanol, you're in a bit of a squeeze right now as refineries move from naptha to natural gas,” Nejame said. “Propylene is a byproduct of naptha cracking, and with less naptha, we've got less propylene and higher prices. Bio-butanol will be produced from corn and cellulosic sugars.”

Staub said that Green Biologics expects to close on the deal in early 2014. Butanol production will start up after its Iowa demonstration plant is scaled up to prove the process to customers, he said.

($1 = €0.74)

By: Bill Bowen
+1 713 525 2653

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