Company initiatives

Green milestones: LanzaTech, Global Bioenergies

Two separate news came out this week announcing their project milestones, one about butadiene from Global Bioenergies, and the other about ethanol from LanzaTech

Incidentally, these two also have a partnership with each other on developing bio-based isobutene but that’s another story to tell some other time.

France-based Global Bioenergies said the first phase of its bio-based butadiene development project with Polish synthetic rubber manufacturer firm Synthos has now been successfully accomplished with the discovery of metabolic pathways converting renewable feedstock into butadiene through a direct, gaseous fermentation process.

Global Bioenergies said several patents have been filed coming from this development. The companies, which formed their partnership in July last year, will now enter their next development phase for which Synthos will contribute several million euros in total  over the next three years.

Global Bioenergies expect to receive royalty payments from Synthos on bio-sourced butadiene used for the manufacturing of rubber. The company also retains exclusive rights for non-rubber applications such as nylon, plastics, latexes representing an existing market of more than $6bn.

The market for butadiene is currently estimated at more than $20bn worldwide, with 7m tons/year are used to manufacture rubbers and 3m tons for nylon, plastics and latexes. The market for global butadiene last year was estimated at $30bn when butadiene prices skyrocket with a spot price of over $3/kg as of July. Current spot butadiene price according to my sources — yes I still have some out there 😉 — is around $1.50/kg in the US and Europe.

Butadiene prices have steadily dropped this year mostly from uncertain global economy and weaker demand. Still the long-term supply outlook for global butadiene is expected to tighten as industry sources are forecasting butadiene demand will outstrip supply because of the expected under-utilization of European crackers due to new Middle East capacities, and the preference to crack lighter, more competitive feeds.

There are also not enough dedicated butadiene facilities out there to cope with future growth in demand especially from BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

By the way, I forgot to mention that Global Bioenergies received a EUR1.5m milestone payment from Synthos after the successful first phase development of the project.

Other companies working on bio-based butadiene development include LanzaTech and its partner Invista; and Genomatica and its partners Versalis and Novamont. I am actually preparing another post about several activity updates from Novamont, so stay tune with that.

In the meantime, going to LanzaTech’s announcement, the company said it has successfully operated its pre-commercial 100,000 gal/year (300 tons/year) ethanol facility in Shanghai, China, which uses waste carbon monoxide as feedstock coming from the adjacent steel mill owned by LanzaTech’s partner Baosteel.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), who regulate technology in China, sent a review panel to the facility in early last month to review the site and report on the process in detail. They reported that the waste-gas-to-ethanol project met international standards regarding gas conversion rates and other technical milestones and that the project can now officially enter the commercialization phase.

LanzaTech said a full scale commercial facility is planned for 2013 through their jv Shanghai Baosteel LanzaTech New Energy Co. Ltd. From what I remember based on my interview with LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren last June, she noted that a commercial facility from them (that could also include a 2,3 BDO production) would have a capacity of around 30m-50m gal/year, with the plant costing around $2.50/gal in ethanol equivalent.

Coming full circle with butadiene, LanzaTech back then noted its expectation to soon demonstrate their ability to produce 2,3 BDO (butanediol) as well by the end of this year, and start commercial production  by the end of 2014.

LanzaTech’s carbon monoxide-based 2,3 BDO can be separated into producing methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and/or butadiene using a thermocatalytic process.

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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