Issue Date: September 5, 2011
BioAmber’s Big Bet
BioAmber, a renewable chemicals firm based in Minneapolis, will build a biobased succinic acid plant in Sarnia, Ontario. The plant is expected to have an initial capacity of 17,000 metric tons per year and be completed in 2013.
BioAmber’s plant is the latest in a string of succinic acid facilities planned by the nascent biobased chemicals industry for North America and Europe.
Succinic acid is an intermediate chemical that proponents say can be made more cheaply from renewable feedstocks, such as sugar, than from petroleum. The fermentation-derived four-carbon acid has potential applications in bioplastics, polyurethanes, plasticizers, and solvents.
The Sarnia facility will be BioAmber’s first in North America; in 2009, it opened a 3,000-metric-ton succinic plant in Pomacle, France. The firm raised $45 million in venture capital funding in May to help it expand succinic acid production. And government ministries in Ontario and Canada have provided BioAmber with $36 million in grants and loans to locate in Sarnia. The plant is expected to generate 40 full-time jobs in its first phase.
The firm plans to later increase succinic acid production with a new yeast strain that it is developing with agriculture giant Cargill. In addition, the company says it will produce butanediol (BDO) using technology from DuPont that converts succinic acid to BDO. At its peak, BioAmber says, the facility will produce 35,000 metric tons of succinic acid and 23,000 metric tons of BDO.
BioAmber will face competition for both products. In August, BASF and Purac announced a joint venture to produce up to 25,000 metric tons of the intermediate in Barcelona by 2013. DSM and Roquette, through their Reverdia joint venture, expect a 10,000-metric-ton plant in Cassano Spinola, Italy, to be on-line in the second half of 2012. And Myriant Technologies is building a plant in Port of Lake Providence, La., capable of producing up to 15,000 metric tons.
For BDO, meanwhile, biobased chemicals start-up Genomatica recently announced an Italian joint venture with plastics maker Novamont. Reverdia and Myriant have also disclosed their plans to make BDO from succinic acid.
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