Cargill, Novozymes partner for product development

By Jerry W. Kram
Cargill Inc. and Novozymes AS have created a partnership to commercialize Cargill's fermentation technology to produce three-hydroxypropionic acid (3HPA) to be used in large-scale acrylic acid production. The project is supported by a $1.5 million matching cooperative agreement with the U.S. DOE.

Acrylic acid is used in many applications including plastics, fibers, coatings, paints and super-absorbent diapers. It is currently produced from propylene derived from petroleum, said Thomas Videbæk, executive vice president of biobusiness for Novozymes. The current market for acrylic acid is approximately 3 million tons per year. That market is growing at approximately 4 percent per year. "New plants will have to be built to serve the growing market, and our hope is that a lot of those new plants will be using our technology," Videbæk said.

Novozymes will be using its expertise in metabolic engineering to improve the yields from the bioengineered organism used to convert sugar into 3HPA, Videbæk said. "We will make sure we get enough product out of the fermentation," he said. Cargill has several basic patents on the process for producing 3HPA and is a major provider of the feedstocks that will go into the production process. "Cargill has a lot of experience working with glucose and glucose-based materials," Videbæk added.

There are significant scientific hurdles facing the project. Videbæk said it will be four to five years before the technology is ready for commercial production. "So far, we are talking about a technology partnership," he said. "Once we are close to a solution, we will decide how production will take place."