December 7, 2009 - by Lisa Sibley, Cleantech Group
U.S.-based Genomatica and Brazil’s Braskem are looking at the international opportunities for sustainable chemicals and bioplastics from sugar.
There’s a major opportunity to convert sugar into a whole host of products, such as “green” chemicals, renewable polymers for bioplastics production, and other so called bioproducts, says San Diego-based Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling.
And they could prove to offer new revenue streams in the process, according to a recent report titled “Market Potential of Sugarcane and Beet Bio-products,” from the London-based International Sugar Organization (ISO).
Schilling told the Cleantech Group it’s not just something being looked at by ISO. He recently participated in a U.S. Department of Energy workshop on the topic, where various stakeholders were looking for related opportunities.
“The ISO report represents a growing international exposure to the opportunity,” he said. "Fuel companies are seeing more near-term opportunities are going to be in chemicals.”
Schilling said that based on a study his company conducted with ICIS, the chemical and energy market intelligence firm, the majority of customers are interested in having access to renewable or sustainable chemicals, but they don’t want to pay more for them.
“It represents a tremendous opportunity for companies like ours to deliver process technology at the same cost or below what it is currently being made at,” he said. “If you can do that you have a terrific win-win, in that you can not only provide a lower cost solution, but you can provide a renewable solution.”
His sustainable chemical company has already been “laser focused” on such chemicals for a number of years, he said. The company uses biotechnology to convert feedstock into existing intermediate renewable chemicals (see Genomatica develops second biochemical from microbes).
“Sugar represents a terrific feedstock from those you can choose from because it’s a large globally traded commodity,” he said. “It’s grown in many regions of the world, so you have many options to source it.”
While he said the ISO report seems to be aimed at sugar producers, it highlights Genomatica’s process as a promising intermediate chemical.
In June, the company announced validation of its ability to make commercial grade 1,4 butaneditol (BDO) from renewable feedstock. BDO is used in plastics, solvents, pharmaceuticals, automotive components and textiles.
The company said it can process BDO produced from sugar to greater than 99 percent purity in a cost-effective recovery process. Genomatica first announced its abilities to make the key plastic component without petrochemicals in 2008 (see Genomatica develops novel bioplastic).
Another company featured in the report is São Paulo-based Braskem, which is investing in bioplastics production capacity in Brazil where sugarcane ethanol is expected to be the feedstock (see Braskem claims first green polyethylene).
In 2007, the company said it produced the first green certified polyethylene in the world, based on ethanol made locally from sugarcane.
The report points out that since Brazil makes the world’s lowest cost ethanol, it’s possible to produce ethanol and then convert the ethylene into polyethylene.
However a collaboration between Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) and Crystalsev, one of Brazil’s largest ethanol companies, to produce bio-polyethylene isn’t moving forward because of the breakup of Crystalsev (see Dow and Crystalsev to make bioplastic in Brazil).
The companies were expected to build the world's biggest polyethylene from sugarcane plant in Brazil, but now Dow appears to be seeking another partner for the project.
For Genomatica, Schilling said his company is still on track to start selling licenses and have a pilot plant in 2010. The plant hasn’t broken ground yet, but is expected to begin operating in the first half of next year.
He wouldn’t disclose the plant's cost, but said Genomatica has the financial means to move forward with it, without being dependent on partnerships or government funding.
Even once the plant is up and running, the company plans to continue to refine its commercial product.
“We are essentially trying to optimize the microorganisms used to produce the BDO, so it can make more BDO faster,” he said.
The report also says Genomatica is pursuing other chemicals from sugar. Without disclosing which ones, the company has said it is targeting a broad range of other intermediate chemicals from sugar including molecules important to making nylons, acrylates, and other large volume chemicals.
Schilling said Genomatica is focused on producing chemicals with large existing markets of more than $1 billion, as opposed to producing molecules with small markets such as succinic acid.
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有某些實例表明，一些公司已開發了新的可持續性發展的產品和生產實踐，已有一些技術和產品推向了市場，如美國從事農業業務的嘉吉(Cargill)公司和日本帝人公司的合資企業NatureWorks公司推出的Ingeo聚乳酸(PLA)聚合物，以及美國的生物科學公司Metabolix與組分、飼料和生物燃料公司ADM(Archer Daniels Midland)已生產出生物基Mirel聚合物。這些都是一些新的生物可降解聚合物。
Genomatica公司有志於通過生物途徑生產化學品，這些化學品可直按作為石油衍生產品的替代，如其開發的BDO和MEK。美國杜邦公司和英國食品集團Tate & Lyle公司的生物基丙二醇是生物途徑的又一實例。巴西石化集團Braskem公司則開發了生物基聚乙烯(PE)。