Company initiatives, Conference, Event, News Roundup, studies and reports

Updates on Top Value Added Chemicals from Biomass

The July Bio-materials newsletter and other deadlines that I have for Tecnon OrbiChem is done, so now I can get back to blogging. I do hope readers were able to see some of the compiled tweets that I posted from the recently-held BIO World Congress in Montreal.

This Monday, I will be tweeting a bit on Jefferies’ Industrial Conference here in NYC (#JefferiesBio) and in September 1-3, I will be participating as a moderator and covering the INFOCAST Sustainability Chemicals & Plastics Adoption and Application Summit in San Diego (#INFOCASTBio). The first day for that summit will be focused on methane bioengineering.

In October 22-23, I will then be attending the ICIS World Oleochemicals conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, (home of the iron throne of the seven kingdoms – yes I am a big GoT fan!) Follow my tweets at #ICISOleo.

In the meantime, it is gratifying to hear especially during interviews and networking at BIO World Congress the progress in commercialization/development of several renewable chemicals that were candidates under the US DOE’s 2004 Top Value Added Biomass-based Chemicals – such as succinic acid, levulinic acid, FDCA, itaconic acid, glucaric acid, and even muconic and malonic acids.

Of course, the blog has comprehensively covered bio-succinic acid, and on August 6, BioAmber formally opens its new Sarnia, Canada facility with a ceremony that will include Ontario’s Deputy Premier, other elected officials and representatives of government agencies that supported the Sarnia funding.  The 30 ktpa Sarnia facility is scheduled for commercial operation in Q3 2015. Other bio-succinic acid producers, Myriant (USA), Reverdia (Italy) and Succinity (Spain) are all operating for more than a year now and capable to produce at their peak capacity.

BioAmber starts its Sarnia bio-succinic acid facility. Source: BioAmber

BioAmber starts its Sarnia bio-succinic acid facility. Source: BioAmber

I also just had an interview today with MBI (Michigan Biotechnology Institute), which presented at BIO World Congress their AFEX biomass pretreatment technology and their A.succinogenes-based microoganism, which when combined, reportedly allowed an efficient and scalable production of cellulosic bio-succinic acid. I will report more about these technologies and their potential impact for an economical production of cellulosic bio-succinic acid at the August Tecnon OrbiChem Bio-Materials newsletter.

In levulinic acid, GFBiochemicals just announced that it has started commercial production at its 10 ktpa levulinic acid plant in Caserta, Italy.  The company is the first to produce levulinic acid at commercial-scale directly from biomass, and the facility is also now the largest production of levulinic acid worldwide. Initial production is expected at 2 ktpa this year using corn-based feedstock.  Production will increase to 4.5 ktpa in 2016 using cellulosic biomass feedstock and to its full capacity at 10 ktpa by 2017. Most levulinic acid production are based in China. Tecnon OrbiChem published a profile on levulinic acid on its May 2015 issue (and an addendum in April 2015 to include GFBiochemicals). My interview with the company is reported on last month’s issue and I am looking forward to further news this year on levulinic acid.

Meanwhile, the development for 2,5 furan dicarboxylic acid (FDCA) is getting more interests expressed from companies such as BASF, Corbion, Coca-Cola, etc. Avantium is a front-runner in the commercialization of FDCA and it has been reported that the company has signed an agreement with European sugar producer Tereos for a potential commercial facility in the production of bioplastics made from FDCA.

At the recently held BIO World Congress, Glucan Biorenewables, a Missouri-based technology company, won the first-ever held Renewable Chemicals Start-up award hosted by Sofinnova Partners. GlucanBio’s TriVersa Process technology can transform woodchips and other biomass into cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin using a solvent, gamma-valerolactone (GVL). The process simultaneously transforms the three components of biomass into furanics building blocks that can be used to launch other value-added co- products such as HMF, DMF, THF and FDCA.

Speaking of 5 HMF, Ava Biochem has begun commercial production in 2014 with an initial capacity of up to 20 tpa in Muttenz, Switzerland. The company claims to be the first worldwide to produce high-purity biomass-based 5-HMF at commercial scale. 5-HMF can be processed further via oxidation into FDCA. It can also be split into levulinic acid and formic acid.

Now, the itaconic acid market might be more quiet but Itaconix has already been commercializing several polymers based on polyitaconic acid for use in cleaning formulations such as laundry detergents, dishwashing detergents and consumer household. Itaconix has been offering its Itaconix DSP 2K as replacement for trisodium NTA and also recently launched its VELASOFT water soluble polymer for home care and personal care. The blog looks at Itaconix comparable to Segetis where both companies are focusing more on derivatives applications (levulinic acid in the case of Segetis) instead of producing the organic acids themselves in bigger volumes.

So far, however, I have not yet heard any new companies looking to produce fermentation-based itaconic acid in a bigger scale. Most production are reportedly in China and because it is reportedly easy for citric acid producers to start producing itaconic acid without any additional investment in new technology, it is therefore more interesting for companies to look into new end-use markets. One of the challenges for the existing market of itaconic acid is a narrow range of applications and limiting potential (think of petro-succinic acid in the past).

In malonic acid, Lygos previously announced that it has successfully achieved pilot scale production using its novel manufacturing technology that reportedly decreases CO2 emissions, eliminates toxic inputs and could replace the existing petroleum production process for malonic acid at lower cost and less energy.  Malonic acid is currently used as a specialty chemical for production of a variety of pharmaceuticals, flavors and fragrances, and other specialty materials.  The petrochemical production of malonic acid requires chloroacetic acid and sodium cyanide, which is both costly and environmentally hazardous.

Lygos said its fermentation technology is environmentally benign, scalable and enables production of malonic acid at a lower cost than the current petrochemical manufacturing process. The blog has not really covered malonic acid that much and therefore I am not familiar with the current market dynamics for this molecule and I also do not know any other companies who are working on bio-based malonic acid.

Lastly on muconic acid, Deinove announced last month at BIO World Congress that it completed its proof of concept production from a variety of renewable sugar sources using its Deinococcus bacteria. The company has initiated the R&D program on this molecule due to its market size and growth outlook combined with an ‘unmet demand for bio-based solutions’ in a large number of applications especially in plastics, textile fibers and food.

According to Deinove, the physiology of the Deinococcus bacteria is well suited for the production of muconic acid. Possible derivatives of muconic acid include caprolactam, terephthalic acid and adipic acid – which are currently produced via petro-based benzene and cyclohexane. The main challenges facing the bioproduction of muconic acid at effective conversion rates is reportedly the extent of the genetic modifications required, and this has slowed down progress towards production on an industrial scale.

Deinove plans to start engineering phases aimed at increasing the strain’s performance under condition closer to industrialization. The company expects to develop this program at a competitive pace spread over a few years. Deinove has also engaged in discussions with several interested industrial contacts for potential R&D collaboration in this program. From what the blog remembers, Amyris has IP on muconic acid with its acquisition of Draths and Myriant is also looking at muconic acid as well as fumaric acid.

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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