Three join on bio-based acrylic acid process
BASF, Novozymes and Cargill to partner
BASF, agribusiness giant Cargill and the Danish enzymes specialist Novozymes have signed an agreement to develop technologies to produce acrylic acid from renewable raw materials in place of the current method by the oxidation of propylene derived from crude oil. No detailed financial terms were disclosed.
Novozymes and Cargill have already collaborated on renewable acrylic acid technology since 2008, developing microorganisms that can convert renewable feedstock from unnamed sources into 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP), a chemical precursor to acrylic acid. BASF, which is the world´s largest producer of acrylic acid, has now joined them, bringing in its relevant capabilities production and downstream processing.
The acrylic acid market amounts to about 4.5 million tonnes/year, valued at around $11 billion in 2011, and growing at 4%/year. One of the largest applications, and the initial focus for BASF, is superabsorbent polymers for use mainly in baby diapers and other hygiene products. Others include adhesive raw materials and coatings.
The collaboration with Cargill is one of several Novozymes already has in the biochemical value chain, where its role is mainly that of developing the enzymes or microorganisms that enable production of biochemical. Other partners include Braskem in polypropylene, Dacheng in glycols and Meihua in amino acids.
Novozymes has also announced the development of a robust microorganism for the efficient production of biobased malic acid. It is now out-licensing the technology. EVP Thomas Videbæk said: “This is our first biochemical building block and a major milestone towards building a biochemical industry together with partners”.
Malic acid, a C4 dicarboxylic acid which occurs naturally in fruits and many vegetables, is used mainly to enhance the sour flavour in products such as jellies, jams, juices and soft drinks. It can also be converted to 1,4-butanediol, a platform chemical for many plastics, polymers and resins for use in applications ranging from golf balls and skateboard wheels to printing inks and cleaning agents. The global market is currently about 60,000 tonnes/year, worth some $130 million and growing at 4%/year.
Separately, it has emerged that Chemtex, to whom Novozymes supplies catalysts for advanced biofuels, is to build a new facility in the US, via a $99 million partnership with the US Department of Agriculture. The new plant, probably in Sampson County, North Carolina, should begin construction later this year and open in 2014, employing 65 and generating about 250 more indirectly.
The facility will use Beta Renewables’ Proesa technology to produce ethanol from energy grasses and agricultural waste as its feedstock. Two other ethanol plants that have announced that they will use this technology, in Italy and Brazil, also use enzymes from Novozymes, which claims to be the largest supplier of enzymes to the biofuels industry.