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BIO 2011: Succinic Acid Dominates Early Discussions

2:16 PM MDT | October 19, 2011 | By REBECCA COONS

Biobased succinic acid has quickly become a topic of great interest during the opening day of Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO; Washington) World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing. DSM and starch and starch derivatives company Roquette Frères (Lestrem, France) announced this morning that they will in fact build the 10,000 m.t/year biobased succinic acid plant DSM's Volkert Claassen recently told CW was close to being finalized. The plant is expected to come online in the second half of 2012. The two firms currently produce a demonstration plant at Lestrem, site of the largest biorefinery in France.

Claassen,  v.p./strategy and key partnerships in bioproducts and services at DSM, says the global market for succinic acid is small, around 25,000 m.t.-35,000 m.t./year. Together with Myriant Technologies’ DOE-backed project to bring a 13,500 m.t./year biobased succinic acid plant online Providence, LA in early 2012, and a BioAmber’s (Minneapolis) plan to bring a 20,000 m.t./year biobased succinic acid plant at an as yet undisclosed North American location online by 2013, succinic acid supply is set to double in the next two years.

Producers are confident, however, that demand for biobased succinic acid will be strong, both in existing applications and in the large markets that will become accessible to succinic acid thanks to the low cost of biobased routes. During a morning breakout session, Alif Saleh, senior director, specialty chemicals at Myriant pointed to recent partnerships with PTT Chemical (Bangkok) and Davy Process Technology. Myriant announced in January a $60 million investment from PTT, as well as the formation of a 50-50 joint venture under which the two companies will work to deploy Myriant’s technology in Southeast Asia. “PTT’s investment in Myriant aligns Myriant’s technology with PTT’S access to cheap feedstocks and high value markets,” Saleh says. It also provides Myriant with both equity and a partner with access to the Asian market, he adds.  In February, Myriant signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Davy Process Technology (DPT; London), a Johnson Matthey subsidiary, covering the use of Myriant’s biobased succinic acid in DPT’s butanediol (BDO), tetrahydrofuran, and gamma-butylolactone process technology. “Davy’s process will soon be able to use succinic acid in place of maleic anhydride, giving producers the ability to swing between the two,” Saleh says. More than half of global BDO capacity installed globally in the past 15 years use Davy technology, and the deal “ensures a competitive and fast rollout of Myriants succinic acid in BDO,” he adds.

DSM’s Will van den Tweel, general manager of biobased products and services , says  consumer trends, the need for more sustainable processes, and  lower oil dependency will drive demand for Biosuccinium, DSM’s trade name for its succinic acid. The low cost of the biobased alternative will also open up new applications, such as thermoplastics, polyurethanes, BDO, and plasticizers. Using succinic acid instead of adipic acid in polyurethanes is an especially attractive opportunity because of adipic acid’s high cost and harmful environmental impact, he says.

DSM’s first commercial unit will be built at Roquette’s Cassano, Italy integrated biorefinery using corn feedstock. The company is already evaluating locations for its second commercial-scale unit, “assuming the market develops as expects,” he says. That plant would likely come online in 2015.

van den Tweel  says DSM’s yeast-based based process offers several advantages over petroleum-based and even bacteria-based methods of succinic acid production, namely fermentation at a lower pH, a simpler recovery process, a lack of waste sales, and a lower cost at large-scale.

BIoAmber, meanwhile, says it is well-positioned to capture succinic acid demand growth for polybutylene succinate (PBS), a a 100% biodegradable plastic made from succinic acid and BDO, says CEO Jean-Francois Huc. Last month, BioAmber and its Asian distributor Mitsui & Co signed a deal to be the exclusive succinic acid supplier to Mitsubishi Chemical. The three firms will also conduct a feasibility study for a succinic acid production facility adjacent to a bio-PBS plant Mitsubishi and PTT are planning to build in Thailand. Mitsubishi also signed a memorandum of understanding with Genomatica (San Diego) to look at building a commercial-scale biobased BDO plant in Asia.

Huc welcomes the news of DSM's commercial-scale project, saying customers need to see multiple sources of supply to truly commit to using succinic acid. Though the involvemnt of large firms like DSM, Roquette, and BASF is at times daunting, they at the same time "lend credibility to the potential of succinic acid as a platform molecule and to the derivatives liek PBS," Huc. And, it reassures customers that a force majeure will not leave them stuck for supply, so it actually accelerates the market. "When Myriant announced its plant, [BioAmber] was actually able to sign several long-term agreements in the 3-4 weeks that followed. The knowledge that there were other producers reassured them to move forward with us."













 
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