I haven’t posted in a month, but I have a very good excuse: the weather has been really nice in NYC, and I’ve been pursuing my passion for fermented products at the city’s many biergartens. News has been somewhat light, but there have been a number of developments worth noting:
Myriant Signs Biodegradable Plastics Partnership
DaniMer Scientific has partnered with Myriant to use biobased succinic acid in the production of biodegradable polymers. The two firms have already demonstrated production of “numerous” materials containing biobased succinic acid at DaniMer’s Bainbridge product development center. DaniMer says it is constructing a large-scale production facility that will incorporate Myriant’s succinic acid into its production processes.
Myriant says the nature of the polymer will be disclosed in the near future. Polylactic acid (PLA)/biobased succinic acid blend could be a safe bet; both companies are familiar with PLA chemistry. Myriant has already commercialized a technology that permits the production of either D(-1) and L(+) lactic acid in one biosynthesis, reducing the need for costly separation steps in PLA production, and DaniMer’s product line includes processing additives and color concentrates for manufacturers looking to switch to PLA. The announcement also closely follows news that BioAmber and NatureWorks have formed a joint venture to develop and manufacture compounded resin blends of PLA and biobased succinic acid.
Biobased acrylic acid is really hot right now.
Propylene priceyness and attractive end markets have made a acrylic acid a renewables darling. Arkema and Cargill have (separately) been working on engineering a viable pathway for several years. Myriant announced late last month that it was “immediately” beginning scale-up of its biobased acrylic acid process so it could begin shipping kilogram-sized quantities for potential customers in the second half of 2012.
OPX Biotechnologies announced it had the 3,000-L mark for biobased acrylic acid production, a “major step toward commercialization.” The company’s organism produces 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3HPA), which can be catalytically dehydrated to acrylic acid. OPX has a biobased acrylic acid joint development agreement with Dow Chemical, the largest U.S. producer of acrylic acid (second-largest globally). Dow and OPX are planning to begin a demonstration-scale unit in the first half of next year. If certain milestones are achieved, the two companies plan to move into a joint commercialization effort.
Meanwhile, I spoke with Metabolix CEO Rick Eno last week regarding the company’s business model after the dissolution of Telles. I will have a more in depth post on that shortly, but I bring it up now because Eno says biochemicals, including acrylic acid, will play a bigger role the revamped company’s product portfolio. The company’s uses 3-Hydroxypriopionate as a platform molecule for several C3 chemicals.
Most execs in this space say competition is a good thing; it validates targets and technology, and can give piece of mind to customers wary of switching to chemicals with a single supply source. But the race to commercialize biobased acrylic acid could become an interesting case study for which of the biobased chemical “musts” (scale, low-cost technology, financing, drop-in replacement chemical, best technology, experienced management team, upstream partner, downstream partner, end market pull, etc) provides the most value. OPX has the advantage of having Dow as a partner, although I suspect Myriant will begin racking up partnerships in the very near future (if the pace in which they accrued partners for succinic acid is any indication). As a pioneer in bioplastics, Metabolix’s team has the advantage that it has successfully scaled up its fermentation—and ironed out the kinks over years of operation.
Key Partnerships Advance
Several joint ventures and partnerships advanced in the last month, a number of which includes capital projects.
DSM and Roquette Frères (Lestrem, France) have officially launched Reverdia (Delft, the Netherlands), their previously announced joint venture, which will produce biobased succininc acid using proprietary technology. Reverdia last year announced plans to build a 10,000 m.t./year biobased succinic acid at Roquette’s Cassano Spinola, Italy. The jv’s plant is expected to come on stream by the end of third-quarter 2012.
Algae oils firm Solazyme (San Francisco) and Bunge say they have signed a definitive agreement to form a tailored oils joint venture at Bunge’s Moema, Brazil facility. The site will have an annual production capacity of 100,000 m.t. and use Solazyme’s oil production technology to convert Bunge’s sugarcane to triglyceride oils for oleochemical and fuel applications. Start-up is expected in the second half of 2013. The joint venture will operate under the name Solazyme Bunge Produtos Renováveis. Bunge and Solazyme signed preliminary agreements for the jv in August of last year.
Technip signed a cooperation agreement with Compagnie Industrielle de la Matière Végétale (CIMV) to commercialize CIMV’s technology that converts solid biomass into hydrocarbons. CIMV’s process passed from the pilot stage to the industrial stage through its collaboration with Technip, the company says.
BioAmber says it has produced multi-ton quantities of 1,4-butanediol (BDO), tetrahydrofuran (THF), and gamma-burtyrolactone (GBL) from biobased succinic acid. The company used hydrogenation catalyst technology it licensed from DuPont for the production campaign, which was performed at an undisclosed toll processing facility with large-scale hydrogenation reactors and distillation columns. Demonstrating large-scale BDO production is a key milestone for the company, which has already announced plans to build at least three biobased succinic acid facilities that include capacity to convert succinic acid to BDO. Its first commercial-scale facility is set to come online in 2013 at Lanxess’ Sarnia, ON site.
Rivertop Renewables says it has successfully scaled-up its process for making the building block chemical glucarate from the lab to pilot manufacturing.
Biolatex binder firm EcoSynthetix (Burlington, ON) says it has commissioned an 80 million lbs/year production line at its Tennessee site, bringing its total annual capacity to 235 million pounds. EcoSynthetix also brought an 80 million lbs/year production train online at its Oosterhout, The Netherlands facility in late 2011.
Georgia Gulf and Galata Chemicals say they are collaborating to develop flexible, biobased polyvinyl chloride (PVC) compounds containing Galata’s biobased Drapex Alpha primary plasticizers.
BASF’s Venture Capital investment arm has invested $13.5 million in Allylix, a start-up producing flavors and fragrances from terpenes derived from biomaterials. BASF’s investment was part of an $18.2 million financing round for the company. BASF did not disclose the ownership stake it receives in exchange for the investment. Other investors in this investment round are Tate & Lyle Ventures, Avrio Ventures and Cultivian Ventures. The investment could allow BASF to broaden its use of renewable raw materials for sustainable chemical solutions in the future and leverage its competency in aroma chemicals, nutrition and cosmetic chemicals, the company says.
Avantium and Danone have agreed to jointly develop bottles made from bio-polyethylene furanoate (PEF). Avantium claims that its YXY technology generates a material with superior functional properties compared with conventional polyethylene terephthalate (PET), including potential to be lighter weight, as well as providing superior barrier and thermal properties.
Volkswagen of America has partnered with Amyris and Solazyme to evaluate emissions reductions and demonstrate the performance of biobased diesel in TDI Clean Diesel engines. Under the terms of the deal, Volkswagen will provide Amyris and Solazyme each with a 2012 Passat and a 2012 Jetta with TDI technology and examine the effects of fuels produced by each company on the engines and on vehicle emissions for a period of 12 months. The data will aid in the ongoing advancement of TDI clean diesel technology.
Just Because It’s Cool
California researchers have produced the versatile fuel and chemical precursor isobutanol from electricity and carbon dioxide. The findings, published in the March 30 issue of the journal Science, could offer a way to use electricity as a transportation fuel without changing the current infrastructure. Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science genetically engineered a lithoautotrophic microorganism known as Ralstonia eutropha H16 to produce isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol in an electro-bioreactor using CO2 as the sole carbon source and electricity as the sole energy input. The electricity was generated by solar panels. Theoretically, the hydrogen generated by solar electricity can drive CO2 conversion in lithoautotrophic microorganisms engineered to synthesize high-energy density liquid fuels. But the low solubility, low mass-transfer rate, and the safety issues surrounding hydrogen limit the efficiency and scalability of such processes. Instead Liao’s team found formic acid to be a favorable substitute and efficient energy carrier. “Instead of using hydrogen, we use formic acid as the intermediary,” says James Liao, UCLA’s Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair in Chemical Engineering. “We use electricity to generate formic acid and then use the formic acid to power the CO2 fixation in bacteria in the dark to produce isobutanol and higher alcohols.”