Issue Date: April 18, 2011
Firms Target Biomethionine
The facility, to be built in either Malaysia or Thailand, will have capacity to produce 80,000 metric tons per year of l-methionine, mostly from plant-based raw materials. It is expected to cost $400 million, split equally between the partners, and open by the end of 2013.
If successful, Arkema and CJ will become the world’s fifth major methionine producer, after Evonik Industries, Adisseo, Novus International, and Sumitomo Chemical. The methionine market is worth more than $2 billion per year, according to the consulting firm Fountain Agricounsel, and is expected to expand at up to 6% annually, driven by increased meat consumption in the developing world.
Methionine is an essential amino acid found in plants. Companies harness nature to make other feed amino acids via fermentation, but the presence of a sulfur atom has stymied a similar approach for methionine. Instead, it is made via a complex chemical synthesis involving hard-to-handle raw materials such as methyl mercaptan, carbon disulfide, and hydrogen cyanide. The d-methionine in the resulting racemic mixture is converted into l-methionine in vivo.
In the manufacturing process proposed by CJ and Arkema, CJ will create a sulfur-free methionine precursor by sugar fermentation. Arkema will build a sulfur chemicals facility that produces, among other things, methyl mercaptan. The precursor and methyl mercaptan will then be reacted to produce an l-methionine that is 80% biosourced, the firms claim.
The advantages to making methionine via fermentation include lower capital costs and a more environmentally friendly process. Adisseo, one of several companies that have attempted fermentation, acknowledged in a recent regulatory filing that introduction of such technology by a competitor could have a negative impact on its business.
CJ, already a major producer of the feed additive lysine via fermentation, says that time has come. “We are confident that l-methionine via the bioprocess technology today can compete favorably in terms of performance and cost with dl-methionine made from chemical processes,” says Chul-Ha Kim, president of CJ’s biobusiness unit.
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