Two big green news: Exxon and Myriant

While I was fiddling with GM’s Chevy fuel cell car yesterday, two big green chemical news broke out: One from Myriant Technologies and the other from ExxonMobil.

Renewable chemical manufacturer Myriant announced that it has successfully piloted their biobased succinic acid process validating its commercial viability. Their succinic acid is derived from the company’s D(-) lactic acid technology and has been in development for four years.

Myriant said its next step is to produce ton-sized samples for its customers to verify product specifications and quality. Succinic acid is used as a building block in the production of chemicals such as plastics, resins, deicers, solvents and fuel additives.

Other companies developing biobased succinic acid include Bio-Amber and Roquette. Bio-Amber is building a 2,000 ton plant in France, which is expected to start this fall. Roquette said it is building a demo plant also in France, which will be operational by the end of 2009.

In another news, ExxonMobil is finally following its peers in stepping up towards more renewable energy investments. ExxonMobil announced its alliance with biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) to research and develop next generation biofuels from algae. The companies opened a new research facility in San Diego for the project.

If research and development milestones are successfully met (no guarantees here they said), ExxonMobil expects to spend more than $600 million, which includes $300 million in internal costs and potentially more than $300 million to SGI. It would be 5-10 years before small-scale plants are up and running, the company said.

ExxonMobil said the potential advantages and benefits of biofuel from algae could be significant.

“Growing algae does not rely on fresh water and arable land otherwise used for food production. And lastly, algae have the potential to produce large volumes of oils that can be processed in existing refineries to manufacture fuels that are compatible with existing transportation technology and infrastructure,” said Dr. Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

SGI will find, optimize, and/or engineer superior strains of algae, and to define and develop the best systems for large-scale cultivation of algae and conversion of their products into useful biofuels. ExxonMobil, on the other hand, will develop systems to increase the scale of algae production through to the manufacturing of finished fuels.

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