France-based Global Bioenergies is stepping up its biobased isobutene development from laboratory to industrial scale and it has partnered with ARD, a specialist in the up-scaling of fermentation processes; specialty chemical firm Arkema, and two CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) laboratories IRCELYON and UCCS.
Global Bioenergies is now scaling up its 42-liter laboratory pilot production of isobutene to a 500-liter fermenter, which represents a yearly production capacity of 10 tons. The industrial pilot facility will be installed in Bazancourt-Pomacle biorefinery near ARD’s agro-industrial complex. The facility will also include a purification unit installed downstream of the fermenter which will allow the production of intermediate-purity isobutene batches. The isobutene will then be transferred to Arkema for its own research.
Arjema will also develop oxidation process adapted to the specifications of renewable products obtained by fermentation in collaboration with IRCELYON and UCCS.
The government of France is contributing a €5.2M ($6.74m) three-year grant to the isobutene industrialization program, of which €4M will go to Global Bioenergies.
Isobutene is a building block that can be converted into isooctane fuel as well as materials such as synthetic rubber (isobutene can be converted into butyl rubber), organic glass, plastics, etc. Global Bioenergies estimated worldwide annual isobutene consumption is around 15m tonnes valued at $25bn. The market is said to be limited by the complex access of the molecule from oil cracking.
Unlike the Gevo-Lanxess partnership, which intends to produce isobutene via the isobutanol route (requiring two additional processing steps), Global Bioenergies said it has engineered bacterium strains that convert glucose straight to isobutene via artificial metabolic pathway that passes by 3-hydroxy-isovalerate.
Global Bioenergies seems to be on track with its milestones achievement when it first announced in mid-2011 during its IPO filing that the company expected scaled-up for its bio-isobutene to an industrial pilot plant of about 10 tonnes/year capacity by 2013. The blog will continue to monitor if Global Bioenergies will achieve a demonstration plant by 2015 and start-up of commercial production by 2017/18.
Other companies working on isoprene include DuPont/Goodyear, Ajinomoto/Bridgestone, Amyris/Michelin partnerships as well as Glycos Biotechnologies (using crude glycerol for feedstock) and Aemetis.