August 13, 2012

Invista, LanzaTech on bio-butadiene

Bio-based butadiene development is getting hotter as another announcement, this time from LanzaTech, came out right in the heel of Genomatica's partnership announcement with Versalis.

LanzaTech said it has partnered with global nylon producer INVISTA to produce bio-based 1,3 butadiene (BD), first by a two-step process using LanzaTech's carbon monoxide-based 2,3 butanediol (BDO); and in the long-term, by directly producing carbon monoxide-based butadiene in a single step process using gas fermentation.

The companies plan initial bio-BD commercialization using the 2,3 BDO route to BD by 2016.

According to INVISTA, they will use the bio-BD as feedstock for their proprietary adiponitrile (ADN) production technologies. ADN is an intermediate chemical used in the manufacture of nylon 6,6.

INVISTA said developing a cost-competitive biological route to BD will help assure ample supply and reduce price volatility of the chemical.

INVISTA claimed that its proprietary butadiene-based ADN production technologies are already widely recognized as one of the most effective and cost-efficient methods of ADN production. More than 75% of the world’s existing ADN capacity uses the INVISTA technology, the company said.

The blog has yet to talk to INVISTA but we did had a brief conversation with LanzaTech last Friday with regards to this announcement.

According to LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren, the companies will initially focus on using 2,3 BDO to BD process as LanzaTech has already been able to produce 2,3 BDO, and that it will take further genetic tweaking of their existing organism to be able to directly produce carbon monoxide-based BD via gas fermentation.
“Right now, we can already economically produce 2,3 BDO that can be used to make butadiene. We decided to start commercializing this biochemical route to BD now while we further develop the other process.” - Holmgren
LanzaTech and its partner, US-based Orochem Technologies, believe they have a separation route that can economically convert LanzaTech's CO-based 2,3 BDO into 1,3 BD using a thermocatalytic process.

Holmgren said the 2,3 BDO-to-BD development project will be done in LanzaTech’s pilot facilities in Chicago, US, and in New Zealand. LanzaTech currently has a 15,000 gal/year pilot facility at a steel mill in New Zealand that produces ethanol and BDO from waste CO gas.

Going back to my previous interview with LanzaTech in May, Holmgren noted that their gas fermentation technology can produce up to 50% of 2,3 BDO by volume and the rest in ethanol.

The 2,3 BDO market is currently very limited because of the difficulty of separating the intermediate into downstream derivatives such as BD, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and butenes.

2,3 BDO is currently available as a laboratory chemical and is being sold as a small-volume intermediate for certain niche applications such as in food flavoring additives. In the past, 2,3 BDO was used as a feedstock to make butadiene for synthetic rubber, before it was abandoned in favor of a more cost-effective naphtha-based BD.

According to LanzaTech and Invista, they will also collaborate on direct production of other chemicals including nylon intermediates using CO waste gas. When it comes to producing nylon, potential bio-based chemicals that came to the bloggers's mind include adipic acid,

The blog has not really gotten that much press release from INVISTA in the past although we did posted a brief announcement last May about the company's improved butadiene-to-ADN processing technology, where INVISTA said the new technology is a culmination of more than $40m in R&D spanning four years.

Benefits of the new ADN technology, according to INVISTA, include improved product yields, reduced energy consumption, lower CO2 emissions, enhanced process stability and reduced capital intensity compared to existing technologies. The new ADN technology also virtually eliminates benzene from the production process.

The blog wonders if this "new technology" is already pertaining to the use of CO-based butadiene?

INVISTA said in their May press release that it has been operating this new technology for more than two years at a pilot scale facility at its R&D center in Orange, Texas, and that it has now the option of installing the new technology at its existing facilities in Orange and Victoria, Texas, in addition to a plant INVISTA is constructing in China.

I guess it is a time to knock on INVISTA's doors and get some answers.

In the meantime, with two recent bio-butadiene announcements, the blog asked LanzaTech on the benefits of CO-based BD as opposed to biomass-based BD.
"Part of the reason why we have been so successful in gas fermentation is that our technology is outside the whole sugar value chain. Another advantage is that gas is a continuous process unlike sugar fermentation where most I know is based on batch processing.  
We get to leverage the whole petroleum/chemical processing systems where a lot of production is under continuous process --which is more efficient if you do it right." - Holmgren. 

August 10, 2012

Evonik, BioAmber in bio-BDO catalysts

The blog had an interesting conversation with LanzaTech this morning which will be posted next week Monday. In the meantime, my apologies to the readers for letting this news about BioAmber and Evonik slipped out.

The two companies announced on July 24, about their long-term partnership in the development and manufacturing of catalysts for making 1,4 butanediol (BDO), tetrahydrofuran (THF) and gamma butyrolactone (GBL) from bio-based succinic acid.

According to BioAmber, it has licensed a BDO hydrogenation catalyst technology from DuPont in 2010, which has been further developed with partners Evonik and the Center for Applied Catalysis at Seton Hall University based in South Orange, NJ, USA. At the same time, BioAmber and Evonik have also started developing a new generation of BDO catalysts.

Now, the blog has no clue on what type of catalysts are usually being used to produce BDO from succinic acid unfortunately. But what the blog remembers is that Myriant is also looking at producing bio-succinic acid-based BDO with its partner Davy Process Technology, an engineering and technology company.

According to US consulting firm Nexant, the Davy approach is to convert succinic acid to dimethyl ester first and then undergo vapor phase hydrogenolysis to BDO/THF mixtures.

Back to BioAmber, the company along iwth its partner Mitsui is currently planning to start a 23,000 tonnes/year of bio-succinic acid-based BDO in late 2014 in Sarnia, Canada. BioAmber said the global market for petrochemical-based BDO, THF and GBL is $4bn.

August 9, 2012

Money, money, money

Even with the economic doldrums, there are still money floating around for green chems and biofuel. Here are some of the recent ones that came to the blog's attention. The blog, of course, already posted about Genomatica getting its $41.5m financing from new investor and partner Versalis as well as existing investors Alloy Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Mohr Davidow Ventures, TPG Biotech, VantagePoint Capital Partners and Waste Management.
  • Elevance raises $104m in its series E financing round led by Lacustrine Ltd (via Genting Genomics) and Total Energy Ventures.
  • Global Bioenergies have raised EUR3.04m on Paris-based NYSE Alternext from 153,459 new shares issued with a price of EUR 19.80 per share. The company now has a market capitalization of around EUR36m ($45.5m). 
  • Myriant receives $25m private bond placement under the US Department of Agriculture's Business and Industry loan guarantee program. Myriant is the first bio-based chemicals company to receive funding from USDA's B&I Rural Development Loan Guarantee program.
  • Amyris will receive up to $82m from Total's funding budget over the next three years exclusively for the deployment of Amyris' Biofene in renewable diesel and jet fuel applications. Upon completion of the research and development program, Total and Amyris intend to form a joint venture company that would have exclusive rights to produce and market renewable diesel and/or jet fuel, as well as non-exclusive rights to other specialty products.
  • Zeachem has been awarded part of a $6m grant by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and US Department of Energy (DOE) for the development of advanced biofuels utilizing tropical grasses. ZeaChem is part of a consortium led by the University of Hawaii that includes Oregon State University, Washington State University, Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, and Hawaii BioEnergy LLC.
  • Cooper Tire & Rubber Company and its consortium partners has been awarded $6.9m grant from the USDA. The four-year grant will focus on research efforts aimed at developing enhanced manufacturing processes, testing and utilizing of guayule natural rubber as a strategic source of raw material in tires, and evaluating the remaining biomass of the guayule plant as a source of bio-fuel for the transportation industry.
  • Edeniq, a biomaterials and sustainable fuels company, has secured a $3.9 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC). The grant is part of California’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, which provides funding for the development of new, California-based biofuel production facilities.
  • Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels has received a $105m loan guarantee from the USDA to finance development of its facility that can convert municipal solid waste into advanced biofuels. Once operational, the plant is expected to convert 147,000 tons of processed municipal solid waste into over 10 million gallons of advanced biofuels annually using a two-part thermo-chemical process.
  • Oakbio, the developer of microbe-based technology that captures CO2 from waste gas and converts the carbon into chemicals, has been awarded $474,843 in response to Grant Solicitation PON-11-502 of the Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program of the California Energy Commission. Oakbio’s research grant project will be initiated August 2012 and will run for 2.5 years.
  • Sweetwater Energy, a Rochester, NY-based cellulosic sugar manufacturer, has closed a $9m series A funding round. Earlier this year, Sweetwater began operation of its pilot-scale cellulosic sugar processing facility at its location in Rochester.
  • Chemtex International has been selected by the USDA to participate in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). The $3,996,000 award will support establishing and growing over 4,000 acres of miscanthus and switchgrass across eleven counties in North Carolina. This feedstock will be part of the biomass supply for Project Alpha, a 20 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol biorefinery planned to be built in Sampson County with a plant startup expected in 2014.
Inventure Renewables and its sister company, Inventure International, have closed a $5m round of financing in May with an option to increase funding in a second tranche to a total of $12 Million. Lead investor Wilmar International has taken an equity stake in both companies. A portion of the funds will be used to build and operate a pilot plant to convert palm fiber waste and sugar cane bagasse into mixed sugars, which can be used for fermentation into ethanol, butanol, and the creation of building blocks for a range of industrial chemicals.

Virdia, formerly HCL CleanTech, a developer of cellulosic sugars bagged in March, a $75 million deal with the Mississippi Development Authority to build manufacturing plants in the state. Virdia also raised over $20 million early this year from Khosla Ventures, Burrill & Company and Tamar Ventures. In addition, the company closed $10 million in a venture debt deal with Triple Point Capital.

BioAmber has completed its Series C round of financing with net proceeds of $30 million. The financing was closed in two tranches; a first tranche of $20 million on November 4th, 2011 with existing investors Naxos Capital, Sofinnova Partners, Mitsui & Co. Ltd. and the Cliffton Group, and a second tranche of $10 million on February 6th, 2012 with specialty chemicals company LANXESS.

LS9 received earlier this year a $4.5m funding from the Florida Opportunity Fund's (FOF) Clean Energy Investment program. The Clean Energy Investment Program was created to promote the adoption of EE/RE products and technologies in Florida by providing funding to businesses to increase the use of EE/RE technologies, equipment and materials in the State.

August 8, 2012

Biofuel News Roundup

Ok, so there have been more news on biofuel than I thought. I should have posted this last week. In the meantime, I am also looking at some of the recent earnings report that came out. As the blog posted before about rising ethanol prices because of drought, it looks like this is also affecting some renewable chemical companies based on Gevo's earnings call yesterday.

Speaking of Gevo, the blog has also been receiving several lawsuit updates against Butamax (including one today), so I guess it's that time of the month for another post in that area ;-).

Clariant starts cellulosic ethanol plant
Swiss specialty chemical company Clariant has opened Germany's biggest cellulosic ethanol pilot plant located in Straubing, Bavaria. The project will produce up to 1,000 tonnes of cellulosic ethanol using 4,500 tonnes of wheat straw based on the sunliquid processing technology developed by Clariant. The process, according to Clariant, is an innovative biotechnological method that turns plant waste products such as grain straw and corn straw into second-generation cellulose ethanol.

REG biodiesel now available
Biodiesel producer and marketer Renewable Energy Group (REG) will offer wholesale biodiesel  REG-9000 to large petroleum jobbers or large fleets beginning mid-August under a new agreement with Maxum Petroleum at its Rancho Dominguez (California) terminal location outside Long Beach. REG also recently announced biodiesel availability at a terminal near Lebanon, Ohio, and its own terminal in Clovis, New Mexico.

AFS BioOil aims $2/gal biodiesel
AFS BioOil has conducted initial tests on its algae production system, and the company states that they will be in the $2 per gallon range of production at commercial scale. For advanced biofuels, commercial scale is at least 1 million gallons per year of production. The company along with a renewable electricity firm are planning a 5 MW renewable electricity and 1-2m gal/year biodiesel projects. The companies are at a design stage and will release actual scope of the projects in the third quarter.

Azul Brazilian Airlines uses Amyris biofuel
Azul Brazilian Airlines has successfully demonstrated a flight using sugarcane jet fuel produced by Amyris. The Embraer E195 jet operated by Azul departed from Campinas Viracopos Airport, flew over Rio de Janeiro and landed at Rio's Santos Dumont Airport.

Algae.Tec commissions biofuel facility
Australia-based Algae.Tec has opened its advanced engineered algae to biofuels facility in Nowra, New South Wales. The facility is connected to the Manildra Group waste carbon dioxide site, which is used in the algae growth process. Algae.Tec also has projects with Holcim Lanka, joint venture discussions in China, and a manufacturing base in Atlanta, Georgia (USA)

Solazyme receives EPA registration
Solazyme has been granted registration for SoladieselRD fuel by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The registration enables SoladieselRD to be sold commercially either in blended and unblended (R100) form. SoladieselRD is said to be compatible with existing infrastructure and can be used with factory-standard diesel engines without modifications.

Novozymes partners with Shengquan
​Shengquan Group, a Shandong-based company specializing in furan resin and polymers, and Novozymes, a world leader in bioinnovation, formed a partnership deal enabling Shengquan to start commercial-scale production of cellulosic ethanol for solvents in June 2012 using Novozymes’ technology. Using Novozymes enzymes, Shengquan will now convert corncob residues from furfural production into fermentable sugars and then into ethanol for solvents and other purposes.

Petrobras to produce biodiesel 
Petrobras Biofuel and the State of Rio Grande do Norte signed a memorandum where Petrobras plans to build an experimental biodiesel plant, located in the municipality of Guamaré for commercial production . With investments of R$ 5.1m, the unit will start in the first half of 2013, with a capacity to produce 20m liters/year of biodiesel.

ICM contracts ACA BIO for ethanol plant
ICM has signed a contract with ACA Bio Cooperative Limitada to design a dry-mill corn ethanol plant with a 40m gal/year capacity located near the city of Villa Maria, in the central province of Cordoba, Argentina. Completion of the facility is expected in the first quarter of 2014. Ethanol production from ACA Bio will focus primarily on the country's domestic markets.

EPEC partners with BioDimensions
Florida-based EPEC Biofuels Holdings Inc. has partnered with BioDimensions Delta BioRenewables (BDBR) of Memphis, Tennessee, to advance EPEC's Ethanol 2.0 platform towards commercialization. BDBR produces, process, and a downstream user of sweet sorghum and has integrated a mechanized system from field-to-factory. EPEC is a development stage company intent on owning and operating ethanol facilities using sweet sorghum on host farms across the US.

DIC Group in spirulina biofuel
Tokyo-based specialty chemical firm DIC Corp. announced that its California subsidiary Earthrise Nutritionals has entered an algae licensing deal with Sapphire Energy, where the company will integrate Earthrise Nutritionals' spirulina strain into its growing inventory of cyanobacteria and algae strains for algae-to-energy production or green crude - a drop-in replacement for petro-based crude oil. DIC Group is the world’s largest supplier of Spirulina, which it has been producing for use in health foods and food colorings since the 1970s.

Sundrop uses ExxonMobil tech
Sundrop Fuels, a gasification-based drop-in advanced biofuels company, has finalized a licensing agreement to use ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company’s methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) technology to be incorporated into its “green gasoline” production facility located near Alexandria, Louisiana, which will use forest waste for feedstock. The facility will produce up to 50m gal/year renewable gasoline and is expected to start later this year.

Plymouth Energy picks Edeniq
Plymouth Energy has been using Edeniq's proprietary Cellunator milling equipment at its 50m gal.year corn ethanol facility Merrill, western Iowa, since the first quarter of the year. Plymouth said it has achieved a 3% yield boost since the Cellunators were installed. which enables to easily convert sugars from corn and other plant materials to produce biofuels.

Dyadic launches biofuel enzyme
Dyadic International has unveiled its latest biofuels enzyme AlternaFuel CMAX3, which enables the production of cellulosic biofuels and biobased chemicals from a wide range of renewable non-food feedstocks under broad pH and temperature ranges. The enzyme is said to be the latest generation of a cellulase and hemicellulase complex based on Dyadic's C1 platform technology.

August 7, 2012

Weekly News Roundup

The blog's favorite motto: Better late than never. Here is this week's news roundup. I will post another one on biofuels.

Gevo ships bio-isobutanol products
Gevo has shipped initial volumes of bio-isobutanol from its 250,000 gal/year plant in Luverne, Minnesota. Gevo is sending isobutanol to both chemical and non-automobile jet fuel customers. The company expects to reach full-capacity run rates in Luverne by year-end 2013.

EcoSynthetix partners with FutureMark
FutureMark Paper Company has signed a 3-year contract for a minimum of 2.45m dry pounds/year of EcoSynthetix's EcoSphere biolatex binders delivered to its Alsip, Illinois, mill. EcoSynthetix's biolatex is an alternative for petroleum-based styrene butadiene latex in FutureMark's paper coating.

Dow uses Betafoam in cavity seating
Dow Automotive Systems, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company has introduced a new cavity sealing solution called BETAFOAM™ Renue polyurethane rigid foam system made with 25% renewable based materials. BETAFOAM is typically used to seal vehicle cavities to provide advantages in managing noise, vibration and harshness and offers improved acoustical performance of one to five decibels.

...and produces encapsulants for solar panels
Dow Chemical begun production in Thailand for ENLIGHT™ Polyolefin Encapsulant Films for use in photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Dow is also constructing a third manufacturing site for this film in Schkopau, Germany. Dow has had a production facility in Findlay, Ohio, since December 2010. Demand for PV modules remains strong, according to Dow, and currently is projected to grow at 20% a year globally, for the next several years.

BioSolar completes certification
BioSolar has completed all technical UL certifications necessary to begin shipping BioBacksheet to solar manufacturers. BioSolar’s patented BioBacksheet is the world’s first UL certified solar panel backsheet made from renewable plant-based materials. In order for solar panels containing BioBacksheet to be sold in the general marketplace, full panel samples must be submitted to UL for UL 1703 certifications.

Matheson, Syngest fertilizer partnership
MATHESON and Syngest have entered a deal where MATHESON will supply 100% of the oxygen and nitrogen for Syngest's BioAmmonia and BioUrea projects. Syngest is entering commercial deployment of its biomass gasification process to produce nitrogen fertilizer BioAmmonia and BioUrea.

Cereplast bags patent
Cereplast has been granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent 8,222,320 for high heat resistant polymer compositions having polylactic acid (PLA). PLA has limitations in terms of melt strength and heat resistance, which has restricted its use for high temperature applications. Cereplast said its high heat PLA compositions can be industrially compostable and can retain their structural properties at temperatures greater than 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius).

And from ICIS News (requires subscription):
Brazilian petrochemical producer Braskem said the company is yet to set deadlines for three projects -- ethanol-based polypropylene (PP) plant, a second ethanol-based polyethylene (PE) plant, and a naphtha-based PP plant. Braskem denied a recent news which reported that the company would delay the three projects.

Trade organizations involved in the US building formed a coalition -- the American High-Performance Building Coalition (AHPBC) -- to push for science–based “green” building standards that include more input by those groups. The coalition was formed in reaction to green building requirements now under consideration by the US General Services Administration (GSA).

US chemical sector officials expressed disappointment and concern over a Senate committee vote to advance a major chemicals management reform bill, the “Safe Chemicals Act”, that is widely opposed by industry. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works voted 10-8 to approve the bill, which is designed to modernise the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principal federal law governing chemicals in commerce.

Waste-to-energy projects going strong

I am still working on the weekly news roundup but this news about waste-to-energy keep popping up on my email inbox so we might as well take a brief look and see what's going on in this sector.

I have written an article on ICIS Chemical Business about the waste plastic-to-energy market last year where Dow Chemical is one of the companies looking into the PTF (plastic-to-fuel) technology. Some of the companies involved in this field include Agilyx. Plastic2Oil (JBI) and Nexus Fuels, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

According to a January study prepared by research firm RTI International for the ACC, there are two types of advanced conversion technologies being used in this industry: gasification and pyrolysis. The primary difference between the two is the feedstock used.

Pyrolysis technologies are generally suited to handle feedstock from non-recycled plastics while gasification accepts all municipal solid waste (MSW) including non-recycled plastics.

According to the study, gasification of MSW saves 6.5m to 13m BTU/ton and 0.3-0.6 tons of carbon equivalent emissions per ton compared to landfill disposal. Pyrolysis, which converts plastics to oil or gas, saves 1.8-3.6m BTU/ton and 0.15-0.25 tons of carbon equivalent per ton over landfill disposal.

RTI identified 41 advanced conversion technology facilities that are under development or undergoing demonstration in North America that that will accept MSW or non-recycled plastics as feedstocks.

Vendors of pyrolysis technology includes Agilyx, Envion, Global Climax Energy, JBI. Gasification technology developers include Enerkem, Plasco, Ze-gen, Geoplasma. Most of these companies are definitely new to the blog!

Anyway, just today, US-based industrial gas company Air Products announced that it will build and operate the world's largest renewable energy plant in the UK using the Westinghouse advanced gasification energy-from-waste (EfW) technology provided by AlterNRG.

The Tees Valley plant located near Bilingham, Teesside, will have a capacity of 50MW and is expected to power up to 50,000 homes. According to Air Products, it will divert up to 350,000 tonnes/year of non-recyclable waste from landfill. The facility is expected to start operation in 2014.

Proposed Air Products facility
New companies that caught the blog's attention also includes Nexterra Systems, which just dedicated a biomass gasification energy plant late last month at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ONL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; NY-based ZeroPoint Clean Tech, which already deployed two biomass gasification systems, one in Ireland and the other in Germany; and Covanta Energy, which completed its commercial demonstration testing of its gasification technology in April.

Covanta Energy's gasification unit can process 350 tons/day of post-recycled municipal solid waste which does not have to be pre-treated.

August 3, 2012

Battle over RFS heats up

So many things going on in the US ethanol market especially current  drought conditions for corn crops (and even soybeans for biodiesel).

Corn prices are going up and that means ethanol prices have been going up too especially when some ethanol plants have been idled because of the lack in demand, which could mean lower ethanol inventories going forward. According to an ICIS news* article, the US Department of Agriculture trimmed its projected yield for 2012 corn by 12% as of its July estimate.

Ethanol producers Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Grain Processing Corp., and MGP Ingredients have all announced price increases for their ethanol citing higher corn prices, according to ICIS.

Because of the higher corn-derived products prices resulting from the drought, industry food groups such as the National Chicken Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council and other meat and poultry trade groups (dairy, milk, turkey, sheep, etc...) are requesting several US Congress representatives to petition for a change in the 2012 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The RFS requires 13.2bn gallons of corn-based ethanol to be produced in 2012 and 13.8bn gallons in 2013. The trade groups argue that the RFS requirement is aggravating the drought impact on food prices.

According to an August 2* article from ICIS News, more than 150 Republican and Democrat members of Congress have signed a letter to the EPA requesting the RFS amendment.

The coalition opposed to the current RFS mandate noted some agricultural forecasters estimate' of 11.8bn bushels of corn will be harvested this year, compared with about 13bn that were harvested last year. Under those conditions, corn-ethanol production will use about four of every 10 bushels, the coalition said.

Meanwhile, several biofuel groups have also been arming themselves as they urged the EPA to maintain the RFS mandate.

Today, eight biofuel industry organizations namely -- the Advanced Biofuels Association, Advanced Ethanol Council, Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), American Coalition for Ethanol, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board (NBB) and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) -- have formed a new council called Biofuels Producers Coordinating Council.

The new council will jointly advocate for the EPA to maintain the RFS mandate. According to the council, US production of biofuels has tripled since the adoption of the RFS standard.
“Undermining the RFS will have a chilling effect on the development of cellulosic feedstocks that are not used for food or feed. The RFS is important for all biofuels, but it is critically important for cellulosic feedstock process development. To undermine the RFS now would wound this feedstock development effort that in the long run is going to help both farmers and ranchers. This aspect is often neglected by the media and is not well understood by cattle ranchers, pork and chicken producers." - BIO
The EPA has yet to respond to the RFA waiver petition from members of Congress.

*requires subscription

August 2, 2012

Metabolix to produce PHA with Antibioticos

I am still trying to catch up with news from last week and here was another big one that came from bioplastic producer Metabolix.

If readers recall, Metabolix had a fall out with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) early this year and had since then been looking for alternative plans to produce its polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) resins dubbed Mirel.

The company announced on July 26 that is has signed a letter of intent with Spain-based Antibioticos S.A. to produce Mirel at its manufacturing facility in Leon. Metabolix said "it will begin work immediately with Antibioticos to conduct a series of validation production runs to demonstrate fermentation and recovery of Mirel biopolymer resin on full production-scale equipment at Antibioticos."

Based upon the validation production runs and completion of economic and engineering feasibility studies, Metabolix intends to enter a definitive contract manufacturing deal to produce Mirel.

If Antibioticos sounds familiar to you, it is because this Spanish penicillin producer has formerly been working with Amyris on planning to commercially produce sugar-based farnesene molecules. Early this year, Amyris scrapped its plans with Antibioticos.

According to an ICIS news article (subscription required) written by colleague Clay Boswell, Metabolix expects commercial supply of Mirel from Antibioticos' plant to begin in 2013. Metabolix aims to initially produce 10,000 tonnes/year of Mirel through Antibioticos, a scale that Metabolix said is sufficient to supply existing customers while continuing to develop the market.

Metabolix said it still has existing inventory of 5m pounds of Mirel produced from ADM's Clinton, Iowa, plant.

During its second quarter earnings call also on July 26, Metabolix noted that it has also started shipping sample quantities of dried biomass for conversion to bio-based acrylic acid for customer evaluation. The company reportedly had a successful scale-up recovery of acrylic acid from dried biomass in Metabolix's Cambridge laboratory in the second quarter of 2012.

The company so far has been confident with the development of its C3 and C4 chemical platforms this year. According to a recent Jefferies analyst report on Metabolix, the company estimated benchmark potential manufacturing costs for the PHA-based gamma butyrolactone (GBL) at around 50c.-60c./lb and for PHA-based 1,4 butanediol (BDO) at 80c.-90c./lb.

Genomatica Withdraws IPO

Christophe Schilling, Genomatica CEO
So the blog found out yesterday that Genomatica withdraws its $100m IPO (initial public offering), which it registered with the US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) in August last year.

Unfortunately, the news was under embargo so I was not able to post it immediately. According to Genomatica's SEC statement today, the company withdrew the registration "in light of current market conditions."

The company was also able to secure a private funding worth $41.5m from new investor (and partner) Versalis -- an Italy-based chemical company, and existing investors Alloy Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Mohr Davidow Ventures, TPG Biotech, VantagePoint Capital Partners and Waste Management.

In my interview with Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling yesterday, he noted that the company is also focusing its business model more on licensing its technologies as opposed to operating assets.
"In view of the current market environment, the private financing will give us better opportunity to demonstrate our technology and differentiate our business model. Our business model is more like a UOP-type licensing model as opposed to operating assets. We are positioned to offer process technology, not a producer of chemicals." - Schilling
Still, Schilling said it will still enter the public market again if opportunity exists as the company moves forward.

According to Genomatica, the $41.5m financing will be used partly for commercialization of the company's 1,4 butanediol (BDO) technology as well as expanding the company's portfolio including the newly announced bio-based butadiene (BD) development with Versalis.

Speaking of this partnership, Genomatica wants to clear out some of the blog's musings on this deal. It seems that there are other routes and processing that can produce butadiene aside from using 1,4 BDO or 2,3 BDO, which the blog posted before.

Schilling said they will not use 1,4 BDO or even 2,3 BDO to produce butadiene for this partnership with Versalis and Novamont.
"At this point, all we are comfortably sharing is that Genomatica has multiple technologies that it is developing to produce butadiene. As far as specific technology and the routes that we are developing, we are not disclosing those. We've done 1,4 BDO to butadiene but we think that there are some better ways to make a lot more economical sense to produce bio-based butadiene and even better than using 2,3 BDO as well. Versalis has understand and has seen this value, hence the partnership." - Schilling
More interesting tidbits from the interview:
  • The 40m lb/year planned commercial bio-BDO facility between Novamont and Genomatica is completely separate from the Versalis partnership. This facility is located in Adria, Italy, and is expected to initially produce bio-BDO in 2013.
  • When asked if the Matrica joint venture (Versalis and Novamont 50/50 partnership) will consider producing bio-BDO at Porto Torres in Sardinia, Italy, Genomatica said it has not disclosed this type of information. (In short, no comment).
  • Genomatica also did not talk about any timeline for the production of bio-butadiene with Versalis, although my colleague Andy Brice had an exclusive interview with Versalis CEO Daniele Ferrari. According to his article on ICIS News (requires subscription), the partnership will be capable of industrializing at least part of the bio-butadiene processing technology within the next 2-3 years, with a plant possible within 4 years.
“At the moment we don’t have a precise location for any plants but obviously it has to be close to an agricultural supply chain and supply of biomass, and has to be close to the elastomers business in the future. We don’t know about the size of the plants at the moment because we need to decide on the process and technology first.” - Versalis' Daniele Ferrari.

August 1, 2012

Cobalt, Rhodia to build n-butanol demo plant

So the blog just had its interview with Genomatica with some juicy details, which unfortunately, will have to wait until tomorrow.

In the meantime, bio-butanol producer Cobalt Technologies announced today that it is moving forward with plans to build a bagasse-based n-butanol demonstration facility in Brazil alongside its partner Rhodia, a France-based specialty chemicals company owned by Solvay.

Rhodia and Cobalt started their collaboration in October last year. Following a demonstration plant, the companies said they plan to construct multiple biorefineries co-located with sugar mills initially in Brazil and then in other Latin American countries.

The companies did not disclose the location of the demo facility as well as capacity of the plant although according to Steven Shevick, chief financial officer of Cobalt in an email, the demo fermentor will be 1/10 the size of a commercial scale fermentor. According to Shevick, this is well within normal industry scale-up parameters.

According to Vincent Kamel, president of Rhodia Coatis Business unit (also via email), a commercial bio-butanol plant will produce up to 100,000 tonnes/year of the product. So if my math is correct....the demo facility will probably be around 10,000 tonnes/year.

Shevick said the companies are working with a top 5 sugar partner to install the demo facility near a sugar mill.
"Demo testing is expected to be completed no later than Q3 2013. The decision to build a commercial plant will be made in Q4 of 2013, and the plant would be running in time for the sugar harvest in the Spring 2015." - Shevick
Detailed cost estimates for the demo plant are also not disclosed but Shevick said they do not expect the cost to exceed $15m.

I wrote an article about this collaboration in December 2011 for ICB, and according to Rhodia back then, demand for butanol in Latin America is around 80,000 tonnes, and is forecasted to grow to 200,000 tonnes in 2015.
"The development of [the] bio-based n-butanol market is strategic to Rhodia's business growth ambitions in the region bearing in mind that the company now uses imported butanol to produce solvents such as butyl acetate. Rhodia plans to replace this imported butanol will bio-based n-butanol."
Shevick said its product price range could be between 40-60% below petroleum-based n-butanol depending on the feedstock. Cobalt Technologies' offering is the production of low-cost n-butanol using cellulosic biomass as feedstock.

In April 2011, Cobalt has partnered with US biorefinery technology firm American Process Inc. (API) to build a commercial-scale cellulosic biorefinery in Alpena, Michigan, US, which is expected to produce 470,000 gal/year of bio-based n-butanol by late 2012. The Alpena biorefinery is funded in part by an $18m US Department of Energy grant and a $4m grant from the State of Michigan.

UPDATE as of 8/10/12: The graphs used in this post came from Cathay Industrial Biotech Ltd.'s S-1 prospectus. Nexant was commissioned to do the market report for the prospectus.