July 31, 2012

Versalis, Genomatica, Novamont partnership

Hello blog world! My apologies for the abrupt silence as the blogger did not have enough time to post an "Out of Office - I'm on a Marvelous Vacation" message. It's either posting or packing, and packing won hands down.

So coming back today and checking my 700+ emails, this news from Versalis, Novamont and Genomatica first caught my attention. In fact, I will have an interview with Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling tomorrow morning.

The three companies announced on July 24 about their proposed partnership to produce biomass-based butadiene - a key raw material for the production of rubber.

Check my previous post for more on bio-based rubber developments.

Under the agreement, Versalis will use Genomatica's process technology to produce the bio-butadiene. One possible route to produce 1, 3 butadiene is the fermentation of sugars to 1,4 butanediol (which is what Genomatica has been developing) and then subsequent dehydration to butadiene.

Other possible routes also includes conversion of biobutanol to butenes and then to butadiene using the oxidative dehydrogenation process (remember Lanxess and Gevo's partnership?); and conversion of 2,3 butanediol to butadiene using a dehydration process (LanzaTech is looking at this as well with Synthos and Global Bioenergies).

Versalis, by the way, is a leading elastomers producer in Europe. According to Versalis, butadiene supply is increasingly becoming constrained and is subjected to availability problems.
"Decreasing supplies and a lack of dedicated butadiene production facilities have resulted in significant long-term pressure on the price and volatility of the chemical, which in turn increases the price of butadiene-based products, including tires. 
Concerns of scarcity in the butadiene market are compounded by growth forecasts within the BRIC countries where demand for automotive products made from butadiene, such as tires, is expected to increase."
Now if readers recall, Genomatica and Novamont already announced a previous joint venture deal in August 2011 to produce renewable-based butanediol (1,4 BDO) in a 40m lb/year plant in Italy starting late this year. The companies did not initially indicate where this plant is going to be located but then Novamont and Versalis also has a 50:50 joint venture called Matrica, which is planning to set up a EUR 500m biorefinery project in Versalis' Porto Torres complex in Sardinia, Italy.

So we put two and two together and could come up with a conclusion that Versalis and Novamont could produce the Genomatica-based butadiene as well as its feedstock BDO at Porto Torres. Whether that will be the 40m lb/year planned bio-BDO capacity or not is a question that the blog will ask Genomatica tomorrow.

The blog also does not know yet how much butadiene Versalis aims to produce and when they plan to start producing bio-butadiene.

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