Biosuccinic acid developers bring product closer to market

By Bryan Sims | November 10, 2011

The race is on for the commercialization of biobased succinic acid and other chemical derivatives as two leading developers, BioAmber Inc. and Myriant Technologies, each formed partnerships with separate major chemical companies to further their strategies of delivering cost-competitive, high-performing biobased chemicals to market.

BioAmber, through its subsidiary Bluewater Biochemicals, partnered with Mitsui & Co., a leading global trading company, to build and operate a biobased succinic acid and 1,4 butanediol production facility in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, a project that was announced in August. The initial phase of the project is expected to have an annual production capacity of 17,000 metric tons of biosuccinic acid and is anticipated to be commissioned for commercial operation in 2013. Permitting work for the facility began in June. The companies intend to subsequently expand capacity and produce 35,000 metric tons of succinic acid and 23,000 metric tons of 1,4 butanediol at the site.

BioAmber and Mitsui also plan to build and operate a second plant in Thailand, which is projected to come online in 2014. A feasibility study for the project is currently underway with PTT MCC Biochem Co. Ltd., a joint venture established between Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. and PTT Public Ltd. BioAmber and Mitsui also intend to build and operate a third plant, located in either North America or Brazil, which will be similar in size to the Thailand biochemical project. BioAmber will be the majority shareholder in all the plants.

Mitsui is one of the largest general trading companies in the world with a broad presence in the global chemicals market. In addition to its extensive distribution capabilities and market access, Mitsui has secured renewable feedstock in Brazil, Thailand and other countries as part of its strategic focus on renewable chemicals.

“Our goal is to play a leading role in the growth of renewable chemicals, as evidenced by our recent joint ventures with BioAmber in North America for biosuccinic acid and The Dow Chemical Co. in Brazil for biochemicals,” said Masanori Ikebe, general manager of Mitsui’s specialty chemicals division. “We believe that biosuccinic acid and bio-BDO will experience rapid growth over the next decade, and BioAmber’s technology leadership is an excellent fit with Mitsui’s strength across the supply chain.”

Since January 2010, BioAmber has been producing and selling biobased succinic acid at its demonstration-scale 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 to convert wheat-derived glucose as feedstock into biobased succinic acid, consuming carbon dioxide in the production process while lowering the carbon footprint. BioAmber will produce 1,4 butanediol—a chemical with a $4 billion existing market—using technology exclusively licensed from DuPont Applied Biosciences.

“Mitsui is an ideal partner thanks to its long-term commitment to renewable chemistry, its extensive reach into chemical markets and its strategic access to sustainable feedstock,” said Jean-Francois Huc, CEO of BioAmber. “Mitsui also has the financial strength to support our expansion and help us compete internationally.”

Meanwhile, Quincy, Mass.-based Myriant Technologies and Japanese global trading firm Sojitz Corp. formed a partnership to collaborate on the sales and marketing of biosuccinic acid in Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan for applications such as platicizers, polymers, urethanes and solvents. Sojitz, a $150 billion company, has a strong presence in chemical sales, marketing and distribution throughout Asia with over 25 sales offices.

According to Sojitz, the plan is to develop a biobased derivatives manufacturing plant somewhere in the Asia Pacific region that will consume 150 million pounds of Myriant’s biobased succinic acid annually.

“This is another significant example of Myriant’s ability to capitalize on global markets where we have demonstrated a clear leadership in the production of cost-effective biobased succinic acid for a wide variety of applications,” said Stephen Gato, chairman and CEO of Myriant. “The combination of Sojitz’s sales and marketing as well as their intent to expand our production capacity were the twin catalysts for this agreement.”

In addition to biosuccinic acid, Myriant also intends to participate in the bio-BDO market. In February, the company signed a collaboration with Davy Process Technology, a Johnson Matthey Co., to jointly develop a process that employs Myriant’s biobased succinic acid for the production of bio-BDO, tetrahydrofuran and gamma-butyrolactone. Myriant can also successfully produce biobased D-lactic acid from its technology platform.

Like BioAmber, Myriant is working with PTT Chemical Group, which made a $60 million strategic equity investment in the company in January to form a joint venture in Southeast Asia, as well as support ongoing development of Myriant’s biosuccinic acid production plant project currently under construction in Lake Providence, La. Once operational in 2012, the project will use sorghum and carbon dioxide to produce up to 30 million pounds (15,000 tons) annually of biosuccinic acid.