Biorefinery, Company initiatives, Partnership

Big green news from last week

I am back from my vacation and trying to delete/answer hundreds of emails from the past 10 days. Meanwhile, let me posts these news from last week before I start completing my presentation for next month’s ICIS World Chemical Purchasing Summit.

One big news is from INVISTA and life science company SilicoLife regarding their collaboration on the development of bio-butadiene and other technology platforms for bio-based chemicals production. The partnership will leverage INVISTA’s capabilities in biotechnology and catalysis, and SilicoLife’s metabolic engineering and synthetic biology capabilities.

SilicoLife provides in silico (performed on computer or via computer simulation) metabolic engineering solutions, building computational models of microbial cells and developing proprietary state-of-the-art algorithms to find the most efficient pathways between raw-material and end-product.

INVISTA has been very active in the bio-butadiene development space, partnering with Seattle-based biotechnology company Arzeda early this year and with LanzaTech in September last year.

Butadiene is an intermediate chemical used in the production of synthetic rubber and various plastics. INVISTA said it is also a key intermediate used by the company in its proprietary butadiene-based adiponitrile (ADN) production technologies. ADN is an intermediate chemical used in the manufacture of nylon 6,6.

Other bio-butadiene development activities include Cobalt Technologies’ partnership with two Asian chemical companies to develop a biomass-to-butadiene processing technology; the JV announcement with Versalis and Genomatica; Global Bioenergies’ partnership with Synthos; and Amyris’ partnership with Kuraray to develop farnesene-based polymers that can replace petroleum-based butadiene and isoprene feedstock.

Rhodia, a company of Solvay Group, announced last week its partnership with Brazilian biotechnology company GranBio to produce biobased n-butanol using sugarcane straw and bagasse for feedstock.

The two companies plan to build the world’s first biomass-based n-butanol plant in Brazil, which is expected to start in 2015 pending approval of the companies’ boards.  The structure of the agreement is to be submitted for clearance by Brazil’s antitrust body, CADE.

The blog will try to find out the capacity of this planned commercial biobased n-butanol plant and where exactly in Brazil the plant is going to be located. There were reports that the planned facility will produce 100 ktpy of n-butanol solvents.

Some of the recent biobased n-butanol scale-up activities include Green Biologics’ plans to scale-up its 40,000 liter fermentation to 80,000 liter scale in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The company has partnered with Easy Energy Systems to build the demo facility for the production of biobased n-butanol and acetone.

In April, Cobalt Technologies announced its successful scale-up of its biobased n-butanol pilot production to 100,000 liter-scale at the Okeechobee, Florida, facility owned by LS9. In October last year, Cobalt Technologies has partnered with agribusiness firm Bunge (which also invested in Cobalt Tech) for a planned bio-based n-butanol demo facility to be co-located at a Bunge sugarcane mill.

LS9’s Okeechobee, FL, facility

Speaking of Cobalt Technologies and Rhodia, the two companies have actually been collaborating since October 2011 in the development of bagasse-based n-butanol production. Another question the blog has to asked is if the production technology for the GranBio/Rhodia plant in Brazil will come from the Cobalt/Rhodia collaboration.

Cobalt and Rhodia previously announced that they are building a demo biobased n-butanol facility in Brazil where it was expected to start this year. Is this demo plant already up and running? There seems to be a lot of planned demo facility connected with Cobalt Technologies — e.g. Cobalt/Bunge, Cobalt/Rhodia and wait…there’s more!

In April 2011, Cobalt Technologies has partnered with American process Inc. (API) to build a cellulosic biorefinery in Alpena, Michigan, that will produce cellulosic ethanol, biobased n-butanol (about 470 kgpy), and potassium acetate using softwoods as feedstock. The original target for this biorefinery startup was late 2012 but so far the blog only heard that the Alpena biorefinery is still under construction.

The twist to this story is that GranBio recently acquired a 25% equity stake in API.

Most of the biobased n-butanol is produced by fermentation of sugars with Clostridium Acetobutylicum (ABE – acetone-butanol-ethanol) process. GranBio is currently building its cellulosic ethanol plant in Alagoas, Brazil, which is expected to start in early 2014 with a production capacity of 82m liters/year (22m gpy).

Aside from Cobalt Technologies and Green Biologics, other companies involved in the biobased n-butanol space include Eastman, Cathay Industrial Biotech, Celtic Renewables, Abengoa, and Working Bugs.

Another US-based start-up, Microvi Biotechnologies, has recently received a grant from the US Department of Agriculture to develop a technology that improves the yield and performance of biobutanol processes. This technology reportedly overcomes toxic and inhibitory effects on butanol producing microorganisms — a major bottleneck in scaling existing biobutanol processes.

Microvi said its butanol technology based on the company’s MicroNiche Engineering™ platform, a process which enhances microbial physiology and optimizes enzymatic performance, shows substantial increases in the titer of butanol over its solubility limit.

Microvi’s technology is also expected to provide economic advantages such as reduced water usage, waste production and energy use. The technology will be retrofitable in existing bioethanol processes and work with any microorganism including genetically modified organisms.

UK-based specialty chemical firm Croda International has acquired 65% equity interest in Sichuan Sipo Chemical Co. Ltd., a non-listed natural specialty chemicals manufacturer based in Mianyang City, Sichuan Province, China. Croda acquired the stake from Sichuan Forever Holding Co. Ltd. and certain individual shareholders for a total of £38.2m, including £8.0m of debt, subject to working capital, net cash and fixed asset adjustments.

Sichuan Forever Holding Co. Ltd will continue as the minority shareholder retaining a 35% equity interest in Sipo.

Sipo’s products include primary amides, novel fatty acids and specialty esters. All of Sipo’s products, apart from a small number of by-products, will be sold through the Croda global sales network.

Croda’s initial focus is to grow sales from its performance technologies business to the polymer additives and lubricants sectors.

Now, in the world of oleochemicals (lipids-based chemicals), the blog previously mentioned OPX Biotechnology’s work in producing fatty acid by converting CO2 and H2 via fermentation. OPXBIO has been working with the US Department of Energy to convert the fatty acids into jet fuel and diesel.

LanzaTech seems to be working on a similar pathway with its recent announcement. LanzaTech has partnered with the Centre for Advanced Bio-Energy, a joint venture between Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and the Indian government’s Department for Biotechnology (DBT), to create a novel process for the direct production of fuels from carbon dioxide emissions using LanzaTech’s gas fermentation technology through an acetates-to-lipids pathway.

LanzaTech’s technology can directly convert waste CO2 combined with H2 into acetates. The Centre for Advanced Bio-Energy is working to increase the production yield of lipids by feeding the acetates to microalgae. The oils produced can then be refined into fuels.

LanzaTech has already been working with IOC to develop a domestic ethanol supply chain using waste carbon streams including carbon monoxide from steel plants, which is widely available in India. The country reportedly is projected to become the world’s second largest steel producer by 2015.

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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