Evonik Industries, a German chemical company that is a major producer of amino acids for animal nutrition, is venturing into one of the field’s final frontiers: fermentation-based production of methionine.
Evonik has submitted a bid to acquire the methionine fermentation technology of the French biotech company Metabolic Explorer. Details weren’t disclosed, although Metabolic Explorer says the proposed price represents at least half of its market capitalization—today about $63 million—over the past two years.
Most animal-feed amino acids, including lysine, threonine, and tryptophan, are produced by fermentation. Methionine is an exception because it contains sulfur, making it difficult for engineered microorganisms to express in large quantities.
Instead, Evonik and other firms make methionine via a complex chemical synthesis involving hard-to-handle raw materials such as methyl mercaptan, carbon disulfide, and hydrogen cyanide. Global methionine sales are more than $3 billion annually, according to Metabolic Explorer.
CJ CheilJedang and Arkema took an initial step toward biobased methionine last year when they opened a $400 million plant in Malaysia that produces the amino acid by combining a fermentation-derived intermediate from CJ with methyl mercaptan from Arkema.
Metabolic Explorer, in contrast, says its process is entirely biobased. The company has been developing it since the 2000s. It had a commercialization agreement with the starch giant Roquette, but that ended in 2014. Following the sale, Metabolic Explorer will continue efforts to develop biobased propanediol and propylene glycol.