Strengthening the Ties

Why DSM, Roquette are closer to bringing biosuccinic acid to market
By Bryan Sims | January 30, 2012

The demand for biobased materials for a range of products derived from their chemical building blocks is seemingly reaching an all-time peak. Clearly, momentum is on the side of biorefining companies such as Netherlands-based DSM N.V. and France-based starch and polyols producer Roquette Freres, which are currently targeting production of biobased succinic acid, a prized chemical building block for the production of polyurethanes, resins, polybutylene succinate and plasticizers, as well as a precursor for other chemicals such as 1,4 butanediol.

Since 2007, DSM and Roquette have been developing a novel conversion route to biosuccinic acid—trademarked Biosuccinium—derived from nongenetically modified corn as today’s feedstock. Now, through the formation of their joint venture entity Reverdia VOF, both are making significant progress on the construction of a 10 kiloton per year commercial-scale biosuccinic acid production facility located at the Roquette starch manufacturing site in Cassano, Italy. It is expected to come online by the second half this year. In 2010, the two companies brought online a demonstration-scale biosuccinic acid production unit in France. The Reverdia joint venture was approved by the European Commission in December.

According to Will van den Tweel, general manager of Reverdia, the potential for biobased succinic acid is huge. The alignment of DSM’s strength in yeast, enzymes and biotechnology alongside Roquette’s expertise in feedstock sourcing and established market presence are what van den Tweel says prompted both companies to unite and create Reverdia.

“Both companies have a strong sustainability strategy with DSM having the No. 1 position in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and Roquette being a member of the United Nations Global Compact,” he says.

The commercialization of biosuccinic acid via the Reverdia joint venture, according to James Iademarco, vice president of biobased chemicals and materials for DSM, will broaden the company’s product portfolio offering while strengthening its experience securing strategic partnerships that complement core competencies.

  “Biosuccinium is the front-runner for our biobased chemical and material portfolio and therefore adds to our experience base to know what it takes to successfully bring a biobased product to commercial scale in an integrated biorefinery,” Iademarco says. “Companies invest a lot in technology, but one also needs to invest in collaborative relationships along these new value chains.”

Based on this strong pact, according to van den Tweel, the companies employ a proprietary yeast-based fermentation pathway to produce biosuccinic acid, which, he adds, operates at a low pH in contrast to other competing processes, allowing the use of other feedstocks such as sugarcane. Reverdia intends to eventually utilize lignocellulosic feedstocks.

“We evaluated bacteria and yeast options and concluded the low pH yeast option to be the most cost- and energy-effective way to produce biobased succinic acid,” van den Tweel says, adding that the process sequesters carbon dioxide throughout the production cycle. “The technology requires fewer steps than, for example, bacterial technology. Bacteria-based processes produce intermediate succinic salts, which require extra processing, additional equipment and additional energy to convert salts into succinic acid.”

Reverdia is scoping the landscape for the best option of a second commercial-scale biosuccinic facility, “which we plan to have in place by 2015,” van den Tweel, says.

—Bryan Sims