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Environment

Novamont opens bio-BDO plant

Italian firm will use the intermediate in biodegradable plastics

by Melody M. Bomgardner
October 6, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 40

Credit: Novamont
Novamont’s biobased 1,4-butanediol plant in Bottrighe, Italy.

Italian polymer producer Novamont has opened what it calls the world’s first commercial plant for the biobased production of 1,4-butanediol (BDO), a major chemical intermediate. The $110 million facility, in Bottrighe, Italy, is an abandoned lysine plant that has been rehabilitated to produce 30,000 metric tons of BDO per year.

Novamont will derive the intermediate from sugar feedstocks via fermentation. The company has licensed the process—and its engineered Escherichia coli microbe—from Genomatica, a U.S. biotech firm. Genomatica, which developed the fermentation route in 2008, has also licensed the process to the German chemical producer BASF.

Most BDO is used as a solvent and to make plastics, elastic fibers, and polyurethanes. But Novamont will use the output to produce Mater-Bi, a compostable and biodegradable polyester used in fruit and vegetable bags, agricultural films, and coffee capsules. The company says products made with bio-BDO save 56% of the CO2 emissions of similar products made from fossil-fuel plastics.

Italy has emerged in recent years as a hotbed of biobased chemicals manufacturing due to consumer demand for sustainable products and the availability of underutilized industrial assets.

Novamont is investing in several sites to create regionally linked biorefineries, including a venture with Italian oil company Eni on the island of Sardinia. Meanwhile, Beta Renewables, a joint venture between Mossi & Ghisolfi and U.S. investment firm TPG, operates a cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino. And Italian start-up GF Biochemicals is commercializing biobased levulinic acid outside of Naples.

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