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Cargill, Materia Launch New Firm

Elevance will make specialty chemicals from vegetable oils

by Alexander H. Tullo
March 31, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 13

AGRIBUSINESS GIANT Cargill and Materia, a Pasadena, Calif., olefin metathesis specialist, have formed Elevance Renewable Sciences, which aims to make specialty chemicals out of renewable oils. The firm is being launched on its own with $40 million in funding from the private equity firm TPG.

Credit: Alexander Tullo/C&EN (both)
Credit: Alexander Tullo/C&EN (both)

In olefin metathesis reactions, two olefins rearrange themselves around their double bonds to create two new olefins. For instance, metathesis is used to make propylene from butylene and ethylene.

Elevance takes advantage of the double bonds found in triglycerides from sources such as soybean and canola oil, explains Andrew L. Shafer, the new company's executive vice president of sales and market development. The triglycerides can be reacted with each other or with petrochemically derived olefins. "The range of products that we can make is really vast," Shafer says. One example is 9-decenoic acid, which is used in flavors and fragrances but also has potential as a raw material for engineering polymers.

Elevance CEO K'Lynne Johnson, who earlier led BP's α-olefins and nitriles business, says the new company occupies an unprecedented position in the chemical industry. "We are the bridge between petrochemicals and renewables," she claims.

Elevance will market metathesis-based waxes that Cargill now sells under the NatureWax name. Beyond this effort, Johnson sees three other platforms for the technology. The closest to commercialization are functional oils for paints, adhesives, inks, and personal care. The company is also investigating antimicrobials for agricultural and industrial applications, and it plans to launch lubricants and additive products.

Elevance will seek development partnerships with companies in these end markets and manufacturing partnerships with specialty chemical companies that will make its products. It expects $1 billion in sales by 2016.

The new company is a result of a four-year-old collaboration between Cargill and Materia. Other Cargill efforts in biobased materials include soybean-oil-based polyols, the NatureWorks polylactic acid joint venture with Teijin, and a deal with Codexis to develop the chemical building block 3-hydroxypropionic acid.

Materia's olefin metathesis technology was developed by Nobel Laureate Robert H. Grubbs, professor of chemistry at California Institute of Technology. Among the companies using its technology are Eisai for a cancer drug, Syngenta for pesticides, and Lanxess for hydrogenated nitrile butadiene rubber.



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