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. 

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