First 2012 post: OPXBio update

Happy New Year!!! The blog wishes everyone a prosperous 2012!

In my culture, we have this tradition that whatever you did in the first day of January is what you’re mostly going to do throughout the year so maybe blogging today will make me more blog-productive throughout 2012. Crossing my fingers!

We’ll ring the new year with this update from OPX Biotechnologies. This was my last interview for 2011 and my apologies to OPXBio for being so late in posting this. The green blogger was able to talk to CEO Chas Eggert – after doing his financial rounds in New York City =) and I was able to get new information especially the company’s plans to diversify its product portfolio into the fatty acid and acrylamide sectors.

But let’s start first with their recent financial round in September where the company was able to raised $41.2m in private equity financing. Investors now include Wolfensohn & Company, X/Seed, Altira Group, Braemar Energy Ventures, DBL Investors, MDV and US Renewables Group.

BIO-ACRYLIC ACID TIMELINE:

OPXBio’s bio-acrylic project with Dow Chemical is also going well, said Eggert. Dow is focusing on the use of sugar feedstock and the conversion process of sugar to bio-acrylic acid while OPXBio is focusing on its microbe using its “Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering” (EDGE) platform, as well as developing the 3-HP (hydroxypropionic acid) bioprocess. Just to refresh readers’ memory on 3-HP as it has been awhile since I last mentioned it, OPXBio uses microorganism to biosynthesize 3-HP by fermentation of sugar and subsequent dehydration of the 3HP to acrylic acid.

Both Dow and OPXBio will jointly fund the development, demonstration and commercialization of bio-acrylic acid. With Dow being a multinational acrylic acid producer and consumer, the company is certainly an expert in the ins- and outs- of the global acrylic market.

Now OPXBio is not the only one working on 3-HP to bio-acrylic. I think the blog also mentioned before that Cargill and its partner Novozymes have been working on this route for years although we have not really heard any updates from these companies although sources said they are planning to soon release their technology available for licensing within the next couple of years. Maybe it’s time to go knocking on Novozymes’ doors on this subject =).

Eggert’s rebuttal against the Cargill technology is that OPXBio claims to have a lower-cost bio-based route (and competitive to petroleum-based route). OPXBio said it was already able to produce a 50 cents/lb bio-acrylic acid using dextrose feedstock at 14 cents/lb, and a 38 cents/lb bio-acrylic acid using sucrose feedstock at 8 cents/lb. At the time of the interview Eggert noted average market selling price of acrylic acid during the interview at $1.20 cents/lb.

OPXBio has already scaled up its bioacrylic acid production to 3,000 liter fermentation (equivalent to 60,000 lbs/year) at a demonstration plant in Lansing, Michigan, owned by MBI, a non-profit organization owned by Michigan State University (MSU) Foundation. Eggert said the company plans to have a second demonstration plant with a capacity of 600,000 lbs/year next year. A commercial plant with a capacity of 100m lbs/year is expected by 2015.

NEW PRODUCT PIPELINE

Leveraging from its 3-HP/bio-acrylic acid product is the development of acrylamide, a $3bn global market, and fatty acids, a $5bn market opportunity, according to Eggert. Both products are still in the early phase of development although OPXBio is already starting discussions with potential collaboration partners for bio-acrylamide.

OPXBio said they could produce bio-acrylamide using the 3-HP-to-acrylamide route at around 75 cents/lb to $1/lb range compared to current manufacturing cost of $1.50/lb via petroleum-based acrylonitrile process. Key market application for acrylamide is in water treatment polymers, which is a $3bn global market.

The blog was also interested in learning OPXBio’s plans to get into the fatty acid market given Solazyme, Amyris and Elevance’s presence in this sector. Eggert said it has already been able to demonstrate production on a laboratory scale and that they could produce customized fatty acid chains. An interesting information on this is that their EDGE technology can use carbon dioxide and hydrogen from gasified biomass, solid waste or natural gas as feedstock to produce the fatty acids. It makes me think of the same technology as LanzaTech’s.

Hopefully the blog will know more of this development when it hits the pilot/demo scale.

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