Codexis enters detergent alcohols market

This news I actually first heard during Codexis’ presentation in a recent Clean Technologies conference hosted by investment and securities firm Jefferies & Co. 

According to Codexis’ Senior VP and Chief Financial Officer Robert Lawson, the company hopes to soon begin commercial production of detergent alcohols using sugar as feedstock. Detergent alcohols will be Codexis’ first chemical product target for their planned bio-based chemicals portfolio.

“We have already produced laboratory-scale detergent alcohols today,” said Lawson. “We first plan on using sugar as feedstock and proceed to biomass in the near future.

Codexis said the technology its developing with Shell on cellulosic biofuel can also be applied to develop renewable detergent alcohols. By the way, take note that Shell is still a producer of synthetic detergent alcohol so it’s definitely beneficial for Codexis to learn the market from a pro (and maybe even beneficial for Shell to diversify its alcohols portfolio…).

During Lawson’s presentation, he noted the rising prices of detergent fatty alcohols since last year which is now at around $2,000-3,000/ton (showing ICIS’ fatty alcohols historical pricing charts). Detergent alcohols, according to him, constitute a 2m tonne global market which mostly goes to consumer products.

“Consumer products companies that use detergent alcohols are concerned about sustainability and price volatility,” said Lawson. “Approximately 75% of the global detergent alcohol capacity is derived from the conversion of natural oils and fats, the remaining 25% is produced synthetically from petroleum. There is a correlation between fluctuating crude oil prices and vegetable oil prices, which results in unpredictable costs and volatile margins for consumer products companies that formulate these alcohols into final products. We believe that our renewable detergent alcohols can address concerns of both sustainability and price volatility.”

According to Codexis, over half of the global detergent alcohols demand goes into household detergents that include laundry liquids and powders, dishwashing liquids and hard surface cleaners. Around 20% is in personal care products and the remaining half consists of industrial and institutional cleaners as well as other smaller applications.

Nothing definitive was announced on when the company expects to start commercialization although there were news reports that products are starting to make their way into customer trials in the first half of this year, demonstration of its technology expected this year, and a rapid drive towards commercialization underway before year end.

For those who like to see some chemistry, you might be interested in this patent submitted by Codexis this year on fatty alcohols production using certain enzymes.

In another recent news from Codexis, the company announced last week its significant progress towards developing economical, commercial scale technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The program is supported by an ARPA-E Recovery Act program grant, which supports development of custom enzymes to decrease energy needed to capture CO2 from coal-fired power plants.

The enzymes carbonic anhydrase (CA) or biocatalysts developed by Codexis have been shown to be functional and stable in relatively inexpensive and energy efficient solvents for 24 hours at temperatures up to 75 degrees Celsius. Use of these solvents with fully developed enzymes is expected to reduce the energy needed to capture CO2 within the plant by 30%.

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