Company initiatives, studies and reports

Codexis, Chemtex scale-up cellulosic fatty alcohol

News keep coming this week, and this last one is from Codexis on its fatty alcohol project with engineering firm Chemtex, a company of Italy’s M&G Group.

Codexis announced its successful scale-up in the production of their CodeXol® detergent alcohols using cellulosic sugars produced using Chemtex’s PROESA® cellulosic sugar technology and Codexis’ CodeXyme® 4X cellulase enzyme as wel as proprietary microorganism strain.

Codexis said the scale-up was achieved at a 1,500-liter demonstration facility at Chemtex’s R&D complex in Tortona, Italy. Chemtex has already commercialized its PROESA® technology with the start-up of M&G’s 60 ktpy cellulosic ethanol production facility in Crescentino, Italy, at the end of 2012. The company is already shipping its cellulosic ethanol in Europe, which the company claimed is cost-competitive without subsidies when oil is around $70/bbl. Estimated cash costs for the cellulosic ethanol is less than $1.50/gal with its sugars at 10c./lb.

The cellulosic ethanol facility can use 270 ktpa dry biomass such as purpose grown energy crops/grasses, industrial residues, agricultural resides and hardwood chips.

And before I get distracted by cellulosic ethanol, Codexis said the CodeXol® detergent alcohols scale-up represents the world’s first successful large scale effort to produce commercially relevant detergent alcohols from a cellulosic biomass feedstock. Another company looking to produce fermentation-based fatty alcohols is LS9.

Codexis claimed its detergent alcohol technology can produce detergent alcohols at commercial specification with the potential to decrease manufacturing costs below incumbent production costs.

The annual global market for detergent alcohols, which are currently manufactured from natural oils and fats and petrochemicals, is approximately $4b and is expected to reach $5.5b by 2020. Unfortunately, the fatty alcohols market is also undergoing quite a challenge in terms of overcapacity in Asia and competition from synthetic fatty alcohols in the US and Europe.

In the US, shale gas is making synthetic fatty alcohols producers Shell and Sasol more competitive as respectively, they use ethylene-based and gas-to-liquid based feedstock. Fortunately, these two companies are also integrated to consume their alcohols for the production of ethoxylated surfactants.

On the other side, purified ethylene oxide capacity expansions are not keeping up with the new oleo-based alcohol capacity, hindering the growth of ethoxylated products in the short term and leaving plenty of fatty alcohols looking for home.

According to a recent report from Colin A. Houston and Associates (CAHA), there are over 60% of new fatty alcohol capacity coming from Malaysia and Indonesia. This year alone, around 740 ktpy of fatty alcohol capacity are expected to start-up. The detergent alcohols market is growing at a base level of 5%/year and any substitutions for linear alkylbenzene and methyl ester sulfonates will drive  this growth even higher, according to CAHA.

Source: CAHA

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 12 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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