Biobased Chemicals East: Day 2

My second day at the Biobased Chemicals East conference in Boston last week saw familiar companies such as Allylix, Avantium, Elevance, Novomer, Purac, DNP Green, Genencor, Myriant, and Metabolix. However, there are two companies that were new to me: Anellotech and Arzeda. We’ll get to those two later in another post.

I was finally able to meet Carolyn Fritz, CEO of Allylix, in person as well as get to hear other interesting information about the company’s technology from VP of R&D Richard Burlingame. If you recall from my recent post about Allylix, the company specializes in the cost-economic production of fermentation-based sesquiterpenes for flavors and fragrance application (among others).

Their recent commercialized products are valencene, an orange flavor and fragrance; and nootkatone, a grapefruit flavor and fragrance. According to Burlingame, one fully-developed commercial scale fermentation based on their technology will produce as much valencene as 1.2m tonnes of oranges!

He also noted that the biobased market today already holds 10-20% of the global specialty chemicals sector, and is expected to grow to 45-50% by 2025. Biobased market potential within the $200bn fine chemicals market is expected to grow by 45-50% as well from today’s 20-25% range. The fine chemicals sector is already familiar with biotechnology products after all such as flavors and fragrances, vitamins, food ingredients, enzymes, nutraceuticals, pharmaceutical intermediates and cosmetic chemicals.

Not much new information from bio-succinic acid producers DNP Green and Myriant. I have yet to sit face-to-face with Alif Saleh, senior director of Myriant’s global specialty chemicals business but I’m sure there will come a time soon. Meanwhile, Saleh noted the company’s ongoing project in building their 30m lb/year commercial succinic acid plant in Lake Providence, Louisiana, funding courtesy of the Department of Energy ($50m) and the Louisiana state ($10m).

The plant is expected to start-up in Q4 2011. Saleh said several supply agreements were already signed for the first production train coming from the plant, and that over 50 customers have already sampled their succinic acid. The company does not expect any green premium for their products.

Myriant’s feedstock is based on starch although Saleh said they will be able to transition to cellulosic sugars once the economics are there.

I’m sure you’ve already read about my recent posts regarding Purac’s lactic acid/lactide activities although it is interesting to note that the global lactic acid market is currently estimated at 250,000 tons excluding the volume used to produce polylactic acid (PLA).

According to Edward Ludwig, Purac’s business development manager, the company is aiming to create superior heat resistant PLA based on L and D lactides for its second generation PLA product. The third generation PLA will be based on a gypsum-free lactic acid process that are carbon neutral, while the 4th generation PLA will use biomass as substrate.

By the way, in case our good readers forget, Purac is working on bio-succinic acid as well in joint development with BASF. Ludwig estimated global sales of biobased chemicals were at EUR 49bn ($66bn) in 2007 and is expected to grow to EUR 135bn in 2012.

Not much updates on bioplastic developer Metabolix and bio-isoprene producer Genencor as well. Metabolix reiterated that their joint venture Mirel bioplastic plant with Archer Daniels Midland is already operating in Clinton, Iowa.

Metabolix is also developing specialty C4 chemicals via fermentation with initial focus on GBL and pyrrolidones. Scale-up activities and customer evaluations are already underway for these two chemicals. The specialty C4 chemicals market is estimated at $800m.

For more on Genencor’s bio-isoprene, read this recent article from ICIS Chemical Business.

I have also posted in the blog my recent interview with Elevance. The company’s chief scientific officer Steve DiBiase explained at the Biobased Chemicals conference how they were able to manipulate plant oil molecules into the desired compounds they are looking to produce such as 9-decenoic acid methyl ester and 9-dodecenoic/9-octadecenedioic acid methyl esters using metathesis reaction.

Here is a flowchart of their biorefining process:

As for Novomer, received a $20.6m DOE funding for its carbon dioxide-based polymers development last July. The company has two platforms, one to produce chemicals and polymers using carbon monoxide catalyst, and the other to produce high performance plastics, coatings, composites and surfactants using CO2 catalyst.

One example from the CO2 platform is the production of polypropylene carbonate polyol containing more than 40% by weight of CO2. Business potential for this platform is estimated at $20bn (or greater than 8.5m tons), according to Novomer VP of business development Peter Shepard.

The Novomer polyol also has the potential to replace bisphenol-A in epoxy lining of a can. Shepard said 1.4 grams of CO2 per can  can also be avoided with the use of this polyol.

I mentioned Avantium last year with their development of furanics-based polymers. Avantium’s furanics are made from C6 sugars using the company’s catalytic biomass conversion.

An interesting information relayed by Avantium’s Dirk Den Ouden, director for new business development, is the possibility of creating 100% renewable-based polyester like PET by using biobased ethylene glycol and replacing purified terephthalic acid (PTA) with Avantium’s platform chemical 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA).

According to Ouden, FDCA has a lot of potential applications not only in polyesters but also polyamides, polyurethanes, thermosets and plasticizers. Compared to PTA, which saw average price of around EUR 600-1200/tonne, FDCA price is comparable at estimated EUR 500-1200/tonne based on a 2005-2009 raw material prices.

Avantium plans to have a 20 ton/year pilot plant for its furanics-based monomer and polymer production starting by early next year. A demonstration plant of around 1,000 ton/year is estimated at 2012 and an industrial plant with capacities between 10,000 and 100,000 tons/year is expected by late 2014.

The company is also currently collaborating with NatureWorks on Furanics polyesters. Avantium is also working on the development of furanics-based biofuel.

From ICIS News (requires subscription):

US DNP Green aims to lower bio-succinic acid price by 25-35c/lb

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