Myriant in talks to build bio-BDO plant in Asia: exec

Author: Joseph Chang


By: Joseph Chang

NEW YORK (ICIS)--US-based renewable chemicals company Myriant is in discussions with several potential customers and partners to build its first commercial scale bio-based butanediol (BDO) plant in Asia, a senior executive said on Tuesday.

“We are in the process of discussing the commercial production of bio-BDO with several partners, and we plan to make an announcement on a plant – at around 65,000 tonnes/year to achieve economies of scale,” said Alif Saleh, senior vice president of succinic acid and derivatives at Myriant.

The bio-BDO project in Asia would be fully integrated with a bio-succinic acid plant at the site for feedstock.

In 2011, Thailand-based PTT Chemical made a $60m (€46m) equity investment in Myriant for a 46% stake, and the companies were exploring the construction of a bio-succinic acid plant in Southeast Asia.

That year, Myriant also disclosed in a proposed IPO (initial public offering) filing that it signed a memorandum of understanding with China National BlueStar to develop a proposal for a jointly-owned 220m lb/year bio-succinic acid plant in Nanjing, China.

It noted that BlueStar was producing BDO utilising a process licensed from UK-based chemical technology licensing company Davy Technologies.

On 12 June 2013, Myriant and Davy Technologies announced the successful production of bio-BDO and tetrahydrofuran (THF), using Myriant’s bio-succinic acid and the Davy BDO/THF process.

“It is a huge advantage that we have qualified our succinic acid as a feedstock for existing and new plants using the Davy BDO/THF process. This will allow us to go to market faster,” said Saleh.

Davy is the leading licensor of process technology to produce BDO/THF from maleic anhydride, with around 800,000 tonnes/year of capacity already installed, noted Saleh.

Myriant’s bio-succinic acid can be used as a feedstock instead in Davy’s BDO/THF process to produce equivalents of petroleum-based BDO, THF and gamma-butyrolactone, according to Davy.

“We need to be cost competitive with petroleum – not bank on a premium for bio-BDO. We’ve always believed in ‘no green price premium’ for bio-BDO,” said Saleh.

“Our potential customers would not seriously make changes to their supply base unless the price for bio-BDO is the same as petroleum-based BDO. We also had to prove cost competitiveness to Davy,” he added.

While Myriant is not counting on a green price premium for its bio-BDO, the verdict is still out on whether its potential customers can leverage the green aspect of products produced with bio-BDO, noted the executive.

“Green at best is a tiebreaker, if the quality and availability of supply is the same,” Saleh said.

On 17 June, Myriant announced the start-up of its 30m lb/year (13,608 tonne/year) bio-succinic acid plant in Lake Providence, Louisiana, US – the first of its kind and scale in North America.

The company is now in the process of selecting a site for its second bio-succinic acid plant in the US – a much larger facility with 140m lb of capacity.

“We’re in final site selection mode and early engineering mode,” said Saleh.

Among other competing bio-BDO technologies, the Davy BDO/THF process is the most efficient as it uses both sugar and carbon dioxide (CO2) as feedstock, resulting in higher yields in its fermentation process, said the executive.

“Our main competitor produces CO2 in the fermentation process, and so they lose 50% of the feedstock to CO2 production and have a higher feedstock cost because of lower yields,” said Saleh.

“We sequester CO2 in our process to achieve a maximum theoretical yield. We use sugar and CO2, and everything is consumed,” he added.

This also results in a reduced carbon footprint, Saleh noted.

Competitor US-based renewable chemical process technology firm Genomatica has already signed bio-BDO production deals with Germany-based chemical producers BASF and LANXESS, as well as Italy-based Novamont.

US-based renewable chemicals company BioAmber also has signed a deal with Germany-based chemical distributor Brenntag for the latter to distribute its bio-succinic acid and bio-BDO derivatives in the Americas.

“These [competitor] announcements validate the demand for bio-BDO in the market. Customers are not going to change procurement activities if there is only one supplier and one technology for bio-BDO,” said Saleh.

($1 = €0.77)