July 27, 2009

Green chems lead at BIO conference - DAY 1

Last year the talk centered on biofuel challenges at BIO's World Congress Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing conference but this year a lot of the buzz (at least in my perspective) was centered on renewable-based chemicals and synthetic biology.

DAY 1:
First interesting updates I gathered was about bio-based propylene glycol and a little bit of isosorbide from agribusiness major Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). The company announced that it will start on the fourth quarter of this year its first 100,000 tonne/year glycerine-based propylene glycol facility in Decatur, Illinois, where a 140,000 mt/year refined glycerine facility is already in production since March this year.

ADM said the PG facility also has the ability to use corn-based sorbitol as feedstock. The company is also about to produce 50,000 tonne/year PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) bioplastic with its partner Metabolix in Clinton, Iowa, in the fourth quarter. Other renewable chemicals the company are looking into are glycerine-based epichlorohydrin and acrylic acid as well as sorbitol-based isosorbide.
"We see a big opportunity in the chemical space," said Todd Werpy, vice president of ADM’s advanced biofuels and chemicals business." If you look at global consumption of oil, only 3.5%-4% is being used by the chemical industry but the value proposition is about $375bn. Oil and transportation made up 70% of petroleum consumption and create a value proposition of $385bn."

Werpy said they are looking to develop both in the bioadvantaged molecules space such as soy adhesives, isosorbide, soy polyols where the technology don't have a market space as of yet but; and direct replacement space such as propylene glycol, where the biobased chemicals have to compete with petroleum-based materials.

ADM noted that it already has pilot plant working for bio-based isosorbide and looking for partnership for new applications.

Before attending the lunch plenary session (no rest even during lunch!), I was able to get information about updates on the algae industry as a potential feedstock for biofuels and biochemicals. I will write a separate post for that so stay tune!

During lunch, meanwhile, a consultant from McKinsey & Company reported a not-so-cheerful update about the industrial biotechnology sector mostly due to the current economic recession.

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