January 31, 2013

New partnership deals

The blog has been a bit late delivering fresh news lately but hopefully our extra content is good enough compensation.

Early this week, Italian chemical company Versalis announced its partnership with Yulex, a US company that has developed a guayule plant-based biomaterials. The companies plan to manufacture guayule-based biorubber materials and will build an industrial production complex in Southern Europe.

According to Yulex, Guayule (pronounced why-YOU-lee) is a renewable, non-food crop that can be an alternative source of natural rubber. Versalis plans to include guayule rubber to its synthetic rubber portfolio as a supplementary business opportunity and an increased commercial offering.

Pure LatexBliss in Las Vegas furniture convention

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January 30, 2013

LS9 looks for commercialization partnership

I had the pleasure of briefly speaking to LS9's new CEO Tjerk de Ruiter this week and I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered this newbie "green" reporter back in 2008 when I interviewed him about Genencor's bio-isoprene and biofuel projects.

If readers recall last week, the blog posted about LS9's announcement of De Ruiter's appointment as the company's new CEO after Ed Dineen stepped down to remain as member of LS9s board of directors. De Ruiter joined LS9 as chairman of the board in August last year. His resume included being the last CEO of biotechnology company Genencor before DuPont bought Genencor's parent company Danisco for $6.3bn in 2011.

There was a speculation brought last week about the possibility of LS9 closing with rumors of staff layoffs. The company assured that this isn't the case although De Ruiter did admit that getting financing is indeed difficult for most start-up renewable chemical companies looking to take the next commercialization step.

Developing next-generation chemicals takes time to achieve, he said, and many investors are too impatient. However, De Ruiter believes that the company's genetically-modified e.coli is now ready for   its microscopic close-up as according to him, yield goals for producing sugar-based fatty alcohol and fatty acid methyl ester (popularly known as biodiesel) have been achieved in the LS9's demonstration plant in Okeechobee, Florida.

LS9 Okeechobee, Florida facility

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January 28, 2013

Oleochemical updates

This post is long overdue but fortunately I will be able to use some of the information here for my incoming presentation at the Plant Bio-Industrial Oils (PBIO) Workshop to be held on March 6-7 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Some of the blog's readers have known my work in the oleochemicals and industrial oils markets since 2000 when I first started as staff editor covering the oils, fats and waxes markets for Chemical Market Reporter (the predecessor of ICIS Chemical Business trade magazine).

I also previously posted a presentation that I did in 2005 predicting the growing influence of renewable-based chemicals in the overall chemical market and the increasing use of biotechnology in this industry. As I pointed out in the first slide of this presentation how the chemical industry started with using natural fats and oils for feedstock - think about soaps, varnishes, lubricants..In fact, Chemical Market Reporter first started in 1871 as Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter weekly journal and you can imagine how important natural oils-based chemicals trading were at that time!

The market for natural oils and fats-based chemicals shrinks to teeny-tiny markets as the era of petroleum and petrochemical refineries took place. However, when crude oil price started becoming too volatile and once it passed the $100 per barrel mark for the first time in history, many folks turn their attention back to alternative, natural-based feedstock. At the same time that the development of mega palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia boomed, the oleochemical industry has been finding itself building capacities after capacities in Southeast Asia (which unfortunately forced many Western producers to close shop and [or] shift into supply partnership instead).

Oleochemical capacity build-up continues in Asia but several Southeast Asian producers have also crossed oceans to set up shop in the West or even expand its portfolio into specialty oleochemicals (base oleochemicals produced are fatty acids, fatty alcohols, esters and glycerin). Here is a flowchart that I got from a Nexant report on oleochemical products coming from fats and oils:

Source: Nexant

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January 23, 2013

LS9 continues on with new CEO

Tjerk De Ruiter
I received several inquiries today regarding the rumor that came out from Biofuel Digest this morning that San Francisco-based LS9 was possibly closing down with staff going to being laid off.

Unfortunately, I was traveling throughout the day and unable to contact LS9 until this afternoon when I saw the company's recent press release about the appointment of their new CEO Tjerk de Ruiter, as Ed Dineen steps down to remain as member of LS9's board of directors.

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NatureWorks starts Asia expansion plans

It has been quite a while since the blog had an update about NatureWorks' plans for its polylactic acid (PLA) expansion in Thailand ever since PTT Global Chemical announced the completion of its 50% stake acquisition of NatureWorks in June last year which was worth $150m.

Actually, NatureWorks still did not formally announce on its recent press release about the current status of the planned 300m lb/year PLA plant that supposedly should start operating in late 2015. Instead, the company says it has selected Bangkok as its first Asia Pacific regional headquarter, and that it has expanded its team to enhance support of Ingeo customers throughout the region.

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Biofuel News Roundup

BIOX resumes biodiesel production
Canada-based BIOX Corp. has resumed biodiesel production at its Hamilton, Ontario, facility after temporarily suspending operation last October. The company stated improvements in US biodiesel market and confidence in market outlook as reasons for resuming production. The facility has 67m liters/year of biodiesel production capacity.

Electrawinds starts biodiesel operations
Belgian green energy company Electrawinds via its new subsidiary Electrawinds GreenFuel has started producing biodiesel using animal waste fats for feedstock in Sluiskil, the Netherlands -- a facility that ElectraWinds acquired and renovated last year. The biodiesel plant has a capacity to produce up to 250,000 tonnes at its full capacity. The company said the site has a storage capacity of up to 25,000 tonnes at its disposal.

Plasco to build waste-to-electricity facility
Canada-based Plasco Energy Group will build a 150,000 tonnes/year waste conversion facility in Ottawa, Ontario, using municipal solid waste of around 109,500 tonnes/year supplied by the City of Ottawa. The facility will use Plasco's proprietary Integrated Converting and Refining System (ICARS), which will gasifies the waste and refines the gas using plasma technology. The synthetic gas will then be used to produce 15 megawatts of net electricity that will be sold to the grid. Construction is expected to start in the second half of 2013 with commercial operation planned for the first half of 2015.

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January 22, 2013

Weekly News Roundup

I have so many updates to post but I'll start with our Weekly News Roundup which was supposed to have come out yesterday but I got distracted with my planned participation at the Plant-based Bio-Industrial Oils (PBIO) conference to be held in March, and my recent announced media partnership with Green Power conferences organizers.

Oh and I am supposed to study for my incoming nursing board exam too. 2013 is definitely starting to be an exciting year! Here are this week's news roundup before I get distracted again...

SES gasification tech for green chems
Synthesis Energy Systems (SES) has entered into a deal with an undisclosed US-based company to assess the feasibility and optimal uses of SES' gasification technology for the production of 'green' chemicals, which will be commissioned and funded by the said undisclosed US company. Possible feedstock will include used tires, auto shredder residues and refuse-derived fuel to efficiently and cost-effectively produce chemicals such as methanol and methanol derivatives.  SES will be assisted in doing the studies with engineering firm Fluor Enterprises. The study is expected to last four months.

VTT's peat fiber in composites
VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland has developed methods for processing bio-based composite materials using peat fiber for use in consumer products and construction materials. These materials can be processed using traditional methods such as in compounding, extrusion and injection molding. VTT currently has three patent applications pending related to the peat-based biocomposites. The development has been partly funded by the TULI project of the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation Tekes.

Solegear bags investors
British Columbia-based Solegear Bioplastics has received strategic investment from Best Buy Capital, the investment arm of Best Buy Co. Inc., North America's number-one specialty retailer of consumer electronics, personal computers, entertainment software and appliances. The companies did not disclosed the investment amount. Solegear plans to introduced this year its bioplastic formulation Polysole - a 100% bio-based and compostable bioplastic made of polylactic acid (PLA) base polymer blended with proprietary natural additives.

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BNDES invests $294m in GraalBio

This is all over the news today as Brazilian development bank Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social (BNDES) announced yesterday another hundred million dollars loan approval this time with Brazilian cellulosic biomass technology developer GraalBio following another announcement last week  on approving a $120m loan for the Solazyme Bunge joint venture.

BNDES said its holding company BNDESPAR will buy a 15% stake in GraalBio for Reais 600m ($294m), and the right to appoint a member of the board in the company. Over the next six years, GraalBio plans to invests Reais 4bn in cellulosic ethanol, bio-based chemicals, and development of technologies that use biomass for feedstock.

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January 21, 2013

2013 New Biofuels Reports

Two new reports just came out for this year covering biofuels. This first one about the sustainability challenge concerning global biofuels is from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).

FAO released a report that addresses core issue of the sustainability (economic, environmental, social) of biofuels and related feedstocks worldwide. It reviews major certiļ¬cation initiatives, schemes and regulations in various countries including case studies covering a broad range of current biofuel-feedstocks systems.

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January 18, 2013

More green funding comes in

I think this is a good sign that various governments, banks and investors are putting in more cash and loans this month for biofuel /renewable chemical activities (see earlier post on the funding prospects for 2013).

This week, Solazyme's joint venture company, Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils has received loan approval of around $120m from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) to support the JV's first commercial-scale renewable oil production facility, which is being constructed adjacent to Bunge's Moema sugarcane mill in Sao Paulo state.

The 8-year loan will have an average interest rate of 4%/year. The facility is scheduled to start operation in the fourth quarter of 2013. According to Solazyme, it will initially target 100,000 tonnes/year of renewable oil production (made from algae that eats the sugar and poops out the oil), which will service the renewable chemical and fuel industries within the Brazilian marketplace.

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January 17, 2013

Bio-based adhesives are hot!

Source: Henkel
Germany-based consumer products company Henkel announced this week that it has partnered with US-based DaniMer Scientific to develop bio-based hotmelt adhesives for consumer packaging.

The goal for the partnership is to market a technology platform that includes a family of bio-based hotmelt (is this one word or two words?) adhesive formulations worldwide.

The alliance expects the first products to be ready for launch in the first half of 2013. According to the companies, the biobased adhesives can be applied to a wide range of customer operating needs such as general purpose end of line, high performance end of line, labeling, and even specialized applications such as frozen food packaging.

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January 16, 2013

Sweet future of cellulosic sugar

The blog has been gathering some information about the market for cellulosic sugar and since this industry seems to be still at its nascent stage, there is not really much to get unless I delve deeply into several technical journals that will probably take me months to understand.

What the blog knows and everybody in the renewable chemicals and biofuel market understand is that cellulosic sugar is a very big market opportunity as an alternative or supplementary feedstock for both energy and petrochemical industries. One fellow twitter noted a recent post by ICIS blogger Paul Hodges about average crude oil prices continuously sustained at over $100/bbl for two years in a row now.

This means, most of the biobased chemical intermediates currently being developed is already comparable -- and some even more competitive, than petrochemical-based intermediates. But the quest does not stop in just becoming cost-competitive, but also addressing the sustainability issues of feedstock being used for biobased chemicals and biofuel. The holy grail these days is to find use for waste streams or non-food crops (that don't need fertilizer, too much water, etc) and make them a profitable market.

And here enters sugars from cellulose, hemicellulose or lignocellulose. The key is to find a company skilled in pretreatment process and enzymes that can extract sugar in high yields and at low-cost.

The companies dealing with cellulosic sugar development and production (and it was hard for the blog to get this information since it doesn't cover feedstock that much) are Renmatix, Proterro, Comet Biorefining, Virdia, Sweetwater Energy, Beta Renewables (with its PROESA Technology), Old Town Fuel & Fiber, Blue Sugars, Edeniq, and SucreSource. I am sure there are more out there.

And so we come to the body of our post, which are recent developments in the cellulosic sugar sector.

Last week, Renmatix announced the commissioning of its BioFlex Conversion Unit (BCU), a multiple-feedstock processing facility at Renmatix's headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The event was attended by Secretary Tom Vilsack of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The new unit will test and convert a range of non-food plant materials such as hardwood, perennial grasses, agricultural residues, softwoods and waste streams through Renmatix's Plantrose process. The cellulosic sugars produced on-site via the BCU will support downstream fuel and chemical strategic partners, says Renmatix. By the way, BASF was one of Renmatix's current investors.

Here is a short explanation from Renmatix of how their process works.

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January 15, 2013

Biofuel News Roundup

It seems all my anti-flu precautions did not work, unfortunately, as I am now a mass of sneezing, sniffling, virus-laden human being. Hopefully, this will pass very soon. Here are several announcements in the biofuel industry and there seems to be a lot of them coming out everyday.

Vinema to build ethanol plants in Brazil
Brazilian biofuel company Vinema Biorefinarias do Sul Ltda. plans to build six new cellulosic ethanol facilities with a total capacity of 600m liters in Rio Grande do Sul that will cost a total investment of Real (R) 720m using cereal crops such as rice, sorghum and barley for feedstock. The plants will be built in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul where it is unsuitable to grow sugar cane. Construction of the first facility in Crystal will begin in April and is expected to start operations in the first half of 2014. The other facilities are expected to be ready within eight years.

Eco-Energy ethanol marketing deals
Tenn., US-based biofuel supply chain company Eco-Energy has formed a multi-year ethanol marketing agreement with Corn Plus Ethanol, which has a 49m gal/year plant in Winnebago, MN. Eco-Energy also formed an exclusive marketing agreement with Lincolnway Energy LLC, which has a 50m gal/year ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. Eco-Energy reportedly handles nearly 10% of the biofuels market in North America.

USEI to build biodiesel plants via JV
Energy firm US Energy Initiatives (USEI) Corp. has formed a joint venture with Methes Energies Canada to build several small-scale biodiesel plants in California which will use Methes' Denami 600 biodiesel processor technology. The technology reportedly can be set up anywhere to produce 1.3m gallons/year of ASTM-quality biodiesel. USEI has also formed a joint venture with an undisclosed biodiesel-producing company located in Riverside County, California.

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January 11, 2013

Weekly News Roundup

The weekly news roundup is back! Yay!

METEX proceeds with Malaysia project
France-based biological chemistry company METabolic EXplorer noted that it has completed the initial-phase analyses of its future bio-propanediol facility in Iskandar, Malaysia in collaboration with Malaysian biotech hub owner Bio-XCell. The project has been delayed for seven months due to site preparation issues. The companies have launched discussions aimed at amending their existing contract to adjust the schedule and financing plan.

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January 10, 2013

Green awards up for grabs

'Tis the season for industry awards and we might see some biobased chemicals/materials this year crossing somebody's red, or in this instance, green carpet.

DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products Company announced last week the launch of its Innovation Award program for companies using its Zemea propanediol (1,3 PDO) in their cosmetic and personal care ingredients or formulations.

The bio-based 1,3 PDO is made from corn sugar through fermentation and can be an alternative to petroleum-based glycols and glycerin (not that there are many synthetic glycerin out there) for use in cosmetics and personal care.

Eligible companies have either commercialized a finished product for retail or launched another ingredient that contains Zemea from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012. Nominations are being accepted between January 3 and January 31, 2013, and the winning company will be announced on February 25, to coincide with the Personal Care Products Council annual meeting in Florida.

The winning company will receive an engraved plaque and a contribution of $1,500 on the winner's behalf to an approved charity of its choice (I approve that idea but maybe a bigger amount might be better...).

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January 9, 2013

Qteros back from the ashes

Remember cellulosic ethanol developer Qteros (formerly Sun Ethanol), which shuttered its operations last year in April, and auctioned off its pilot biofuels manufacturing facility in Chicopee, Massachusetts?

The company's technology called Q Microbe developed by the University of Massachusetts Amherst was touted as a very efficient ethanol-producing organism using biomass feedstock. Unfortunately, Qteros was one of the several other advanced biofuel and traditional biofuel players that were hit by adverse biofuel market conditions last year.

Late last month, three of Sun Ethanol's original founders announced the revival of Qteros as the new CEO Stephan Rogers, who formerly served as Sun Ethanol's chief operating officer and assisted in raising $35m for that earlier startup, have acquired Qteros' intellectual property assets, microbial strains developed over the past five years, and research data related to the assets.

The new Qteros plans to pursue a less capital-intensive business model through partnership with companies that have deep experience in microbial research to jump-start the business, and further on, to license its technology to customers instead of building its own plants.

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Green Market Forecasts

My crystal ball is not working properly so I am going to let these experts from various consulting firms  do the proper forecasting when it comes biobased chemicals/materials, biofuels as well as cleantech markets.

US-based consulting firm Lux Research noted that bio-based material developers must aim for large, addressable markets such as composites and coatings, industrial manufactured intermediates, and packaging.

Industrial intermediates represent the future for bio-based material developers, the consulting firm said. This area target huge addressable markets such as electronics, building materials, automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods.

Coatings, meanwhile, offer huge opportunities for substitution with bio-based raw materials, and in many cases can also offer significant improvements such as elimination or reduction of volatile organic carbons (VOCs), according to Lux Research. In plastics, bio-based plastics are ideal disposables with volume applications such as medical, flatware, cleaning, bags, liners, bottles, etc.

Transparency Market Research, noted that that biodegradable plastics -- both made from petroleum and  plant-based feedstock -- is expected to reach $7.8bn worldwide in 2018. This market was estimated to be worth $2.3bn in 2011. Europe reportedly will occupy 36.8% of the global market followed by North America in 2018.

According to Transparency Market Research, demand of bio-based biodegradable plastics has increased over the last decade due to growing demand and development for eco-friendly materials. Bio-based biodegradable plastics market is segmented on the basis of its types as starch based plastics, polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). The market for renewable biodegradable plastics was reportedly $1.9bn in 2011 and is expected to reach $7bn in 2018.

The report also includes polycaprolactone (PCL), polybutylene succinate (PBS), and starch-based plastics aside from PLA and PHA.

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January 7, 2013

Updates: Verdezyne, Purac, Dow

Hello blog readers. As you probably noticed by now, I have been absent lately from posting because of a very good reason. As of this week, I now possessed dual degrees -- Chemical Engineering and Nursing --  and I am wondering how to combine these and still be able to do the work I love --  research writing within the business of chemistry (and medicine??). A lot to think about as I start this new year with new goals.

But the blogging has to continue. Let's start with industrial biotechnology firm Verdezyne, which I have not had any updates since mid-2012.

Last month, Verdezyne said it has partnered with Universal Fiber Systems LLC and its operating companies Universal Fibers and Premiere Fibers, to develop sustainable carpet fiber and apparel yarns using Verdezyne's bio-based adipic acid.

Universal Fiber Systems is a global multi-polymer fiber producer, and markets its yarn systems globally to the residential, commercial, automotive and high-performance apparel industries.

Recalling past posts about bio-based adipic acid, Nexant presented several possible routes for the production of this chemical:
  • Direct fermentation to adipic acid 
  • Bio-based benzene --> KA Oil --> adipic acid 
  • Muconic acid --> adipic acid 
  • Bio-based butadiene --> adipic acid 
  • Glucaric acid --> adipic acid
Other companies working on this area or looking to expand in this area include Rennovia, DSM, Amyris (which acquired a bio-based adipic acid technology from the former Draths), Genomatica, BioAmber, and Aemetis.

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January 2, 2013

Funding prospect for 2013?

With the dismal IPO and stock trends for renewable chemicals and biofuels last year, combined with biofuel/renewable energy regulatory uncertainties in the Western markets as well as continuous global economic/financial challenges -- will investors be invigorated in 2013 to part with their precious green bucks?

January seems to have a good start as the biodiesel industry gave a sigh of relief today when the US House of Representatives cleared a year-end fiscal package that reinstates the $1/gal biodiesel tax incentive through the end of 2013 and retroactive to January 1, 2012. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) also noted the extension of three key ethanol related tax credits with the passage of the fiscal package in Congress.

Meanwhile, Gevo said today that it has repurchase up to $15m of its common stock over a one-year period with existing cash and cash equivalents on hand. The company believes its stock price is currently undervalued and that the repurchase is an opportunity to enhance value for their stockholders. The move seemed to excite investors as their stock as of January 2 rose 18% to $1.82 after the market closed.

According to this Bloomberg article, industry analysts such as from Raymond James & Associates, Piper Jaffray approve the move stating that the company is sending a positive signal about their credibility after Gevo announced the cutback of their bio-isobutanol production in late September.

December also saw funding announcements from Amyris, P2 Science, Proterro, and Soffinova Green Seed Fund/Solvay.

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January 1, 2013

Welcome 2013

2012 New Year Blog

Happy New Year readers of the blog! I hope 2013 will be a successful and productive year for the business of green chemistry and the blog's resolution is to continue monitoring and reporting activities in this market.

Again, I wanted to thank everybody who continue to follow the blog's transition from ICIS. Since the new blog came online in September 1, it had about 21,000 views throughout 2012, according to Wordpress yearly blog report.

The most popular post for the day was on November 12 with my post "Sustainable Palm Oil: Is certification enough?"

The post with the most views however was about bio-acrylic acid followed by bio-PET especially Coca-Cola's involvement in this sector. Bio-acetic acid also got the top views of the year as well as bio-based nylon.

Readers of the blog came from all over the world, 95 countries to be exact. Most visitors came from the US, France and Japan. The blog's top referring sites are Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook but the blog is also thankful for those who did Google search specifically to find the new Green Chemicals blog after I relocated from ICIS to this new platform.

This month, as I venture out again to find employment in the chemical publishing/research field, I will aim to visit and analyze some of the markets that I used to cover in ICIS when it was then Chemical Market Reporter -- oleochemicals, green surfactants, animal fats/plant oils, and natural waxes. This could be a fun project to do.

The blog is sending a big good luck for those planning to start their commercial production this year. As the blog posted in October, 2013 is going to be a critical year for bio-based chemicals as several companies aim to prove that their technology will be able to efficiently and cost-economically work as they start-up their first commercial-scale facilities this year.

2013: A validation year for industrial biotech