Mitsubishi develops bio-MMA

Mitsubishi Rayon (MRC) and its subsidiary Lucite International announced today that they have developed bio-based methyl methacrylate (MMA), a chemical used in coatings, transparent plastics and adhesives.


Most of MMA is polymerized into polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), a transparent thermoplastic sometimes called acrylic glass which is an economical alternative to polycarbonate. Lucite by the way, is one of the well-known acrylic glass trademarked.

MRC said it working on two approach for the bio-MMA production:

  • Using biomass for feedstock in the existing production processes
  • Using a novel route via fermentation process of biomass

According to MRC’s website, the company currently produces MMA monomer from petrochemical feedstock using two methods: the C4 direct oxidisation process that uses isobutylene as feedstock, and the ACH (acetone cyanohydrin) process that uses acetone and hydrogen cyanide as feedstocks. ACH is reportedly an extremely hazardous substance by the way.

My colleague Clay Boswell wrote an article on ICIS Chemical Business about some of the recent biobased intermediates being developed and mentioned that Arkema and Evonik are some of the companies that are working on biobased MMA as well.

I am trying to figure out what are the possible routes being developed for this biobased chemical. 

Evonik has also developed two technologies for producing their bio-MMA (in pilot scale). One is its AVENEER process, which the company said is a multi-step catalytic process and more economical than conventional sulfo process. The other technology is a metabolic route using sugarcane and bacteria to generate the MMA, which can then be integrated into the AVENEER process.

Evonik said it is now working to improve the performance of the bacteria and adapt them for industrial-scale production. Evonik plans to have its bio-based MMA industrially available by 2018.

I wonder if MRC has the same approach as Evonik? I am not sure about Arkema’s process so the blog has to dig more deeply into that one.

MRC and Lucite said they plan to start producing MMA monomer using biomass as feedstock by 2016. Long-term, MRC aims to produce at least 50% of its MMA monomer output using biomass.

One more interesting information is that MMA can also be produced via isobutylene — remember Gevo, DuPont, and other bio-isobutanol producers?. Itaconic acid is also being developed as an alternative to MMA.

The University of Minnesota also has the technology to produce sugar-based isobutyric acid, which can be used to further converted to MMA.

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