Biorefinery, Company initiatives, Investments, Processing

Segetis starts levulinic acid pilot production

Update 10/12/13: Avantium said the company’s YXY technology platform now also included methyl levulinate (ML), an intermediate that can be further converted into levulinic acid . ML can reportedly be produced cost-effectively in tunable volumes ranging from kilotons to around 10,000 tons for a commercial FDCA (furan dicarboxylic acid) plant.

The blog has always been intrigued with levulinic acid, which is considered by the US Department of Energy (DOE) as one of the top biomass-based chemical building blocks. However, it seems there are not many companies (as far as the blog knows) that are developing further commercialization potential for this building block with the exception of Segetis and Biofine Technology LLC in the US, and Green Future S.R.L based in Coserta, Italy.

Segetis recently announced that it has successfully started its pilot plant facility in Golden Valley, Minnesota, demonstrating the viability of its proprietary process to convert biomass to levulinic acid. The pilot plant has a nameplate capacity of 80 metric tons/year and currently uses corn sugar as feedstock although the company said its process has broad capability and is intended to be used to explore many other feedstocks as Segetis’ technology develops.

Segetis has been very active in the production and marketing of downstream derivatives from levulinic acid via the company’s levulinic ketal technology trademarked JAVELIN (TM). Segetis produces levulinic ketals using its highly selective process combining esters of levulinic acid with alcohols derived from vegetable oils (such as glycerol). The properties of levulinic ketals are modified and tailored through the R1 and R2 functionalities allowing the compounds to be used alone or as a building block.

Segetis has been sourcing its levulinic acid from China. The company declined to comment on the name of its supplier. With the new pilot plant, Segetis said it is now equipped to “advanced dialogue in a meaningful way” to build the first fully integrated levulinic acid and derivatives biorefinery using a variety of carbohydrate feedstocks.

“The significant investment made in the Levulinic Acid process development is the final step in unlocking the full supply chain to exploit our downstream renewable chemicals business in a cost effective way. Segetis now has a full suite of development capabilities for our technology from lab scale to pre-commercialization. Adding this pilot capability to our existing facility accelerates our speed of innovation and execution.” – Segetis

Segetis currently has a demonstration facility under toll manufacturing somewhere in the Upper Midwest, which is capable of producing over 3m pounds/year of levulinic ketals-based solvents and plasticizer products. Segetis also has a 250,000 lb/year pilot plant that has been online since 2009 in Minneapolis that is used for process validation for its levulinic ketals and derivatives.

Segetis is planing for a commercial facility (most likely for levulinic ketals and downstream derivatives) by around 2015/2016. The company’s portfolio of partners has been pretty impressive so far with the inclusion of Arkema, PolyOne, and Georgia Gulf in bio-based plasticizers; and household cleaning products producer Method. DSM and SABIC are also Segetis’ investors.

A colleague at Tecnon OrbiChem is actually compiling information for a chemical profile on levulinic acid that hopefully will soon be published on the Bio-Materials & Intermediates newsletter. It will be interesting to know who are the current Chinese producers of levulinic acid.

In the US, it seems Biofine Technology LLC has the capability at its Gorham, Maine, pilot facility to produce 600 pounds/day of levulinic acid from one ton of dry biomass (ex. paper mill sludge) per day.

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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