BioAmber selects first North American biosuccinic acid plant site

By Bryan Sims | August 30, 2011

BioAmber Inc., through its subsidiary Bluewater Biochemicals, has identified Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, as the site for its first North American biobased succinic acid production facility. The plant will have an initial annual production capacity of 17,000 metric tons and is anticipated to be commissioned in 2013. Permitting work for the facility began in June.

According to BioAmber, the company leveraged CAD$35 million (US$35.7 million) in combined grants and loans provided by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Sustainable Development Technology Canada and the Canadian Sustainable Chemistry Alliance to locate its facility in Sarnia. BioAmber plans to double production capacity in Sarnia by 2014 through the introduction of a next-generation yeast being developed with Cargill Inc.

“These provincial and federal programs have put Ontario and Canada at the forefront of sustainable development and in strong position to compete globally for foreign investment by renewable chemical and material companies,” said Mike Hartmann, executive vice president of BioAmber. “These programs were instrumental in BioAmber’s decision to invest in Ontario.”

While biosuccinic acid will be the product of focus for BioAmber at its Sarnia facility, the company also intends to produce 1,4 butanediol (BDO)—a chemical with a $4 billion existing market—using technology exclusively licensed from DuPont Applied Biosciences. At peak production, according to BioAmber, the goal is for the Sarnia plant to produce 35,000 metric tons per year of biobased succinic acid and 23,000 metric tons per year of BDO. The plant’s first phase is expected to spur substantial regional economic growth, generating 150 construction jobs and 40 full-time jobs. Additional jobs are expected as capacity is increased and BDO production comes online.

“Sarnia has tremendous potential as a sustainable chemistry cluster,” Hartmann said. “The unique combination of chemical infrastructure, skilled labor, educational facilities, competitive transportation costs and proximity to some of Canada’s richest agricultural land makes Sarnia an excellent choice.”

Since January 2010, BioAmber has been producing biobased succinic acid at its demonstration facility in Pomacle, France. With an annual capacity of 3,000 metric tons, the facility employs a proprietary fermentation process that uses an E. coli microorganism that converts wheat-derived glucose as feedstock into biobased succinic acid, consuming carbon dioxide in the production process thereby lowering its carbon footprint.

Among other biobased products offered in BioAmber’s portfolio include modified polybutylene succinate polymers—or mPBS—which are biodegradable aliphatic polyester nanocomposites. These composites are engineered and designed at the molecular level by partner Sinoven Biopolymers to meet end-user requirements for high performance, biodegradable plastics. BioAmber’s biosuccinic acid can also be used as a viable substitute or for precursors to produce other chemicals like BDO, such as adipic acid used in traditional polymers, and tetrahydrofuran (THF). Additionally, BioAmber has built a strong patent portfolio covering the use of succinate salts, and in particular potassium succinate, which can be used in deicing and anti-icing applications.