BioAmber, Lanxess partner to develop biobased plasticizers

By Bryan Sims | October 24, 2011

Applications for the burgeoning biobased succinic acid market are beginning to widen as Minneapolis-based BioAmber Inc. and German specialty chemicals company Lanxess have formed a strategic partnership to produce and market biosuccinic acid-based phthalate plasticizers that are renewable, petroleum-free replacements to conventional plasticizers. 

BioAmber and Lanxess have been working together for two years assessing the performance and opportunities of succinate-based esters in the plasticizer market. Based on the results seen thus far, the companies said that succinic acid-based plasticizers can deliver substantial sustainability, performance and safety that the global plasticizer market is looking for. Samples are now available and both companies expect to begin commercialization by next year.

The partnership leverages the strengths of both of companies. Lanxess has large capacities and expertise in production and a global distribution network that sells innovative, phthalate-free plasticizers under its trademarked family of plasticizers. In February, Lanxess acquired Greensboro, N.C.-based UNITEX Chemical Corp., which allows the company to access additional capacity of 50,000 metric tons per year, plus an extensive portfolio of phthalate-free plasticizers such as benzoates, citrates and trimellitates.

“Our cooperation with BioAmber is a unique opportunity to launch a new generation of plasticizers on the market that meet all legal regulations, and can also score in terms of environmental aspects and sustainability,” said Jorge Nogueira, head of Lanxess’ functional chemicals business unit that manufactures phthalate-free plasticizers.

BioAmber brings extensive expertise in the production and distribution of biobased succinic acid from wheat-derived glucose at its 3,000-metric-ton-per-year production plant in Pomacle, France. The company expects to bring on an additional 17,000 metric tons annually of biobased succinic acid capacity in 2013 at a new facility in Sarnia, Canada, co-located on a site within Lanxess’ Bio-industrial Park.

“Our partnership with Lanxess will accelerate penetration of the global plasticizer market and secure a first-mover advantage for both companies,” said Jean-Francois Huc, CEO of BioAmber. “BioAmber’s succinic acid offers a safe, sustainable alternative to phthalates and our additional plants in Sarnia and Thailand will ensure our customers have reliable, competitive supply.”

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 precursor for the production of other saleable biochemicals like 1,4 butanediol, adipic acid for the manufacture of 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.

According to Lanxess, the global market for phthalate-free plasticizers is currently estimated at €1.3 billion ($1.8 billion U.S.) with an annual growth rate of approximately 7 percent. As a result of legal initiatives, demand for phthalate-free plasticizers is rapidly growing in markets such as North America, Western Europe and Japan. An increase in demand is also being observed in growth markets such as Latin America, according to the company.

Lanxess’ partnership with BioAmber is one of several the company has executed this year in its commitment to produce renewable bioproducts. In November, Lanxess announced it will produce the world’s first biobased ethylene-propylene-diene monomer (EPDM) rubber in Brazil derived from sugarcane-based ethylene, dehydrated ethanol, supplied by Brazilian petrochemical company Braskam SA in Triunfu, Brazil.

Previously, Lanxess invested in Colorado-based Gevo Inc. to convert Gevo’s corn-based isobutanol to isobutene, a key material for the production of butyl rubber.