Company initiatives, Processing, Products

Elevance starts shipment from Indonesia biorefinery

Elevance Renewable Sciences and Wilmar International announced that they have begun shipping commercial products, including novel specialty chemicals, to customers worldwide from their first world-scale joint venture biorefinery located in Gresik, Indonesia, which started operations this year.

The biorefinery, which has a capacity of 180 ktpy (400m lbs) and expandable to 360 ktpy, is Elevance’s first biorefinery using its proprietary metathesis technology. The company said it is now working with their partners such as France-based specialty chemical company Arkema and US-based surfactants producer Stepan to meet product demand and accelerate deployment and commercialization of their high-performance chemicals in end user application. Other companies that Elevance has partnered with include Dow Corning, Clariant, DSM, and Hutchinson Worldwide.

Elevance’s Executive VP of sales and market development, Andy Shafer, noted that their partners and the company will be announcing commercialization activities around the products in the upcoming months as commercial capacity is now available from Elevance.

“Customers have told us they need commercial-scale quantities in the second half of the year, so the timing all come together.” – Shafer

The biorefinery produces novel specialty chemicals including multifunctional esters such as 9-decenoic methyl ester; a unique distribution of alpha and internal olefins including decene; and a mixture of oleochemicals but more C16 than C18 chains.

Here is a chart of the biorefinery’s product distribution:

Source: Elevance

Elevance said the high-value, di-functional specialty chemicals have superior functional attributes previously unavailable commercially as it combine the functional attributes of an olefin (typical of petrochemicals) and monofunctional ester or acid (typical of oleochemicals) into a single molecule. Elevance claimed to be the only company that can economically produce these di-functional molecules (using their metathesis technology) as conventional producers have to blend and formulate a number of separate ingredients to produce materials with the same functional attributes of both olefins and esters.

The blog asked Shafer on whether the growing investments for production of shale gas-derived chemicals in North America will impact demand for their olefins in the coming years, Shafer said most of the olefins coming from shale gas are shorter chains while the Elevance products are higher value long chain olefins with ten or more carbon atoms.

C10 decene, for example, has reportedly been in high demand because of increasing use of synthetic lubricants but supply of decene has not kept pace because producers have limited ability to change the production mix of their plants. New construction of conventional linear alpha olefins (LAOs) capacity, meanwhile, would produce a combination of both C10 and lower value co-products. Elevance said it can focus on C10 and higher molecule production while minimizing production of other less profitable molecules, and has much lower capital investments required for their plants.

As for their oleochemicals, their product mix is said to be more C16 than C18, which is unusual distribution for typical oleochemical production. Shafer noted that this mixture fits the methyl ester sulfonate (MES) surfactant market very nicely.

“The di-functional nature of our novel specialty chemicals make our materials very different in terms of performance and benefits compared to traditional products,” said Shafer.

The biorefinery will also produce glycerol as a by-product, which will be incorporated into Wilmar’s glycerol stream from its biodiesel facility co-located at the Gresik site.

Products from the Indonesia biorefinery will be shipped worldwide to customers. Elevance retains the exclusive right to market the specialty chemicals produced from the facility, while both companies will have the right to market the olefins. Wilmar is said to be the lead responsible for marketing the oleochemicals as it fits with their existing oleochemicals business.

Wilmar is providing all natural oil feedstocks required by the Indonesia facility. The type of feedstock changes the distribution ratio of olefins, oleochemicals and specialty chemicals that come out of the back-end of the plant, said Shafer.

The facility is initially using palm oil for feedstock but Elevance said it can use other natural oils such as mustard (rapeseed), soybean, and when they become commercially available — jatropha or algal oils.

The biorefinery was initially targeted to start commercial operation last year but according to Elevance, they want to make sure they can ship products from the biorefinery before talking about their start-up in the marketplace. Elevance said its partners’ development needs were adequately supplied by the company’s toll manufacturing due to the flexibility of the process used in the biorefinery.

Elevance is also currently retrofitting a biodiesel plant at Natchez, Mississippi, USA, for its second world-scale biorefinery, although the company said many of its team from Natchez had to go to Indonesia within the last six months to learn and work with the Indonesian team  in the commissioning, start-up and operations of the Indonesia biorefinery.

“Many of the employees in Indonesia have experience operating an oleochemical facility but not a chemical plant. The team in Natchez have more chemical plant experience. They are coming back to Natchez with experience running the biorefinery,” noted Shafer.

Shafer declined to comment on exact timeline for the start-up of the US facility as the focus has been on the Asian facility. The company will now be shifting attention to this, Shafer said. Meanwhile, he also noted that there are multiple conversations taking place in South America and Asia for the company’s third biorefinery.

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 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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