BioAmber picks Ontario for new plant

I finally was able to get some questions answered regarding BioAmber’s announcement of its new North American bio-succinic acid (and bio-butanediol) plant that will be located in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

The Sarnia plant will be operated by BioAmber’s new subsidiary Bluewater Biochemicals, and will have initial capacity of 17,000 tonnes/year by 2013. This capacity will increase to 35,000 tonnes/year by 2014 and will then use next-generation yeast developed by Cargill.

BioAmber also plans by 2014 to have a 23,000 tonne/year capacity producing bio-BDO (and associated tetrahydrofuran and gamma butyrolactone) in the new facility using bio-succinic acid as feedstock. The company will use DuPont’s technology in BDO production. If readers recall early this year, bio-succinic acid producer Myriant also had a partnership agreement with UK engineering firm Davy Process Technology for the use of their bio-succinic acid to produce BDO, THF and GBL.

Now according to BioAmber president Jean-Francois Huc, the company is planning to both sell their bio-BDO to the merchant market as well as supply it to their partners although the company prefer to secured a long-term partnership deal for both their renewable-based BDO and THF.

I am planning to write an article about bio-BDO development and commercialization updates for ICIS Chemical Business’ September 15 issue. So for subscribers, watch out for that! 

Back to the BioAmber announcement, Huc added that the new Bluewater Biochemicals subsidiary was specifically created as a Canadian legal entity that will own and operate the Sarnia plant.

“We created a separate legal entity to facilitate the possible future entry of a minority equity partner.” – Huc.

Total investment for the Sarnia plant including the C$35m ($34.14m) government grant/loans will be around $80m, according to Huc. Agencies such as the Ontario Ministry for Economic Development and Trade (MEDT), Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), and the Canadian Sustainable Chemistry Alliance contributed to the government financing. The first phase of the project is expected to generate 150 construction jobs and 40 full time jobs, according to MEDT.

MEDT also noted that taxes on business investment in Ontario were recently cut in half making Ontario more competitive and encouraging new business investments. Huc noted Sarnia’s proximity to certain raw materials as well as availability of existing utilities, transportation infrastructure and shared services.

“These collectively really helped Sarnia stand out as a unique site in North America for biobased chemical production, and we plan to leverage all of these in the operation of our plant.” – Huc

When asked about the Cargill yeast technology, BioAmber said the yeast advantages over the current E.Coli technology (that the company is using now) is fourfold:

  • It is more robust so the yeast is not susceptible to phage contamination, which therefore reduces variable costs and operating complexity
  • It has higher productivity, can then produce more succinic in the same equipment and in the same period of time and therefore lowers capital expediture intensity
  • It grows and produces succinic at low pH, which simplifies purification and further lowers variable cost
  • It is now successfully used and commercialized by Cargill in lactic acid production.

 The green blog also asked BioAmber about the status of their planned facility in Asia. If readers also recalled, BioAmber formed a partnership this year with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) to produce bio-succinic acid for MCC’s joint venture company PTT MCC Biochem. The joint venture will manufacture and market bio-polybutylene succinate (Pbs) using bio-succinic acid as one of its feedstock.

BioAmber’s succinic acid facility will be located next to PTT MCC Biochem’s  20,000 tonne/year Pbs plant in Thailand. According to my recent interview with MCC (article on ICB for subscribers), the Pbs plant will require about 15,000 tonne/year bio-succinic acid.

BioAmber noted that it will build considerably more capacity than this to both meet PTT MCC Biochem’s future needs and the demand of BioAmber’s growing customer base in Asia through BioAmber’s distributor Mitsui & Co.

“We will be disclosing more details on our plans for Asia shortly,” said Huc.

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