Features International Sugar Journal

Trends in biobased products R&D and new build activity in 2022

Arguably, the high-value-low-volume biobased sector offers sugar companies great diversification choices. Driven by synthetic biology, the technology will become pervasive in most sectors. As Boston Consulting Group points out, “By the end of the decade, syn-bio could be used extensively in manufacturing industries that account for more than a third of global output – a shade under US$30 trillion in terms of value.”1

The R&D round-up products investigated in 2022 (table 1) is not exhaustive – sourced from reported news pieces. The biobased product sector encompasses not only the production of substitute petrochemicals but also food, feed, speciality ingredients, cosmetics, fragrances and flavours, and biomaterials. Molecular farming is also gaining traction, whereby plants are exploited as ‘bioreactors’ or ‘biofactories” for producing valuable molecules. Sugar and cellulosic feedstocks are central to the production of many biobased products, which the sugar industry generates in plentiful supply.

Table1. Biobased products – R&D roundup 2022

Company/Institution Product Feedstock Process conversion
Platform chemicals
Lakril Technologies acrylics corn fermentation
Avantium furandicarboxylic acid High fructose syrup fermentation
Technical University of Munich Succinic acid glucose fermentation
Global Bioenergies isobutene Sugar fermentation
LanzaTech + Northwestern University + US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory acetone and isopropanol CO2 and CO fermentation
Washington State University + Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory ‘high value products’ Lignin bio-mimetic enzyme
Bluestem Biosciences ‘chemicals’ Sugar fermentation
Toray Adipic acid Cellulosic sugars fermentation
LanzaTech Ethylene CO2 biocatalysis
BASF Ethylene Biomass biocatalysis
Food, feed, speciality ingredients
University of Helsinki + VTT Ovalbumin (chicken egg white powder) glucose fermentation
Wacker + Biosyntia Biotin (vitamin B7) sugars fermentation
University of York Citric acid Cane bagasse fermentation
Royal DSM Vitamin A Sugar fermentation
Biosyntia vitamin B7 Sugars fermentation
Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology lutein Glycerol enzymatic
British Sugar + Pond Technologies Animal feed spirulina Additive manufacturing
Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT), medium-chain triacylglycerols marine microalgae Additive manufacturing
Federal University of São Carlos Slow release fertilizers cellulose Additive manufacturing
Cosmetics, fragrances and flavours
Arkema oleochemicals Castor bean proprietary
Phytolon + Ginkgo Bioworks Food colours sugar fermentation
Biomaterials
Bucha Bio Biotextile Nanocellulose fermentation
Infinited Fibre Company Textile fibre Textile waste recycling
Hampshire County Council, UK Bollards, biopoymers Cane bagasse?
Solvay + Trillium Acrylonitrile (for carbon fibre) Plant-based glycerol thermochemical
Mitr Phol + Marubeni bioplastics Sugarcane, cassava fermentation
Wageningen Bitumen lignin
Ashland Thickener (hydroxyethylcellulose) cellulose
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cellulose-epoxy composite cellulose Additive manufacturing
Goodyear Tire & Rubber rubber dandelion Plant extraction
University of British Columbia + Joint Bioenergy Institute (USA) Acholetin (polymer) Sugar fermentation
Sapporo Breweries denim Brewery waste Additive manufacturing
Danish Technological Institute + CelluComp Packaging material Sugar beet pulp Additive manufacturing
MycoWorks + Nick Fouquet Leather alternative Mycelium fermentation
Molecular farming
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology strychnine tobacco plants
Lund University, Sweden, Guangdong Academy of Sciences, China, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA, ISCA Inc, Brazil and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Moth pheromones camelina

Table 2 is a snapshot of investment activity in the sector over the past year. Again, it is neither exhaustive nor complete, gleaned from reported news in the global media. As the process conversion technologies mature and companies pursue reduced carbon emissions strategies, commercial-scale production of biobased products is undoubtedly ascending.

Table 2. New build activity in the biobased products sector in 2021

 

Where Investment

US$/€

Biorefinery capacity

 

Product/s
Poland US$100 mln 30,000 t propylene glycol
Comments Orlen Poludnie, belonging to the PKN Orlen Group, has opened the plant in Trzebinia. The construction began in 2019.
France €420 million
Comments French government is investing in the sector. Of the €420 million, €300 million will go to the renewable sector mobilising technologies, of which €200 million will be for the production of sustainable aviation fuels, €100 million biobased products projects, plus €70 million for upstream research, €30 million towards technology transfer and €20 million towards training
  €80 million 16,000 t Organic acids
Comments Afyren has inaugurated its first commercial-scale plant, Afyren Neoxy, in the city of Carling Saint-Avold. The plant will carboxylic organic acids containing 2-6 carbon atoms include acetic acid, propionic acid, butyric acid, isobutyric acid, valeric acid, isovaleric acid and caproic acid. These acids have several applications in various sectors: human food, animal feed, flavours and fragrances, lubricants, materials science and life sciences. It will be operating at full capacity by 2024.
Slovakia rhamnolipids
Comments Evonik is investing a three-digit million-euro sum in constructing a plant at its site in Slovenská Ľupča, scheduled for completion by the end of 2023. Rhamnolipids will be manufactured via a fermentation process using a genetically modified Pseudomonas putida plus sugar.
USA US$65 million Green cement
Comments The biotech start-up Biomason secured the funding from venture capitalists to expand its operations. The company employs natural microorganisms to grow biocement in ambient temperatures without emitting carbon dioxide.
       
Brazil MEG (mono ethylene glycol) and MPG (mono propylene glycol).
Comments Braskem and the Japanese trading firm Sojitz are partnering to produce and market MEG and MPG. Subject to the conclusion of technology development in 2022, the business plan includes constructing three industrial units, with the start-up of the first plant slated for 2025.
Japan polyamide 6,6
Comments Asahi Kasei is partnering with the biotech start-up Genomatica to commercialize the production of biobased nylon.
US$120 mln palm oil alternatives
Comments Kao Corporation is partnering with Genomatica to scale latter’s biobased alternatives to palm kernel oil, joining Unilever as a founding member. Few technical details of the project have been released.
Mexico Indigo dye
Comments Archroma, deploying Stony Creek’s IndiGold plant-based indigo dye process, will produce the first batches at its plant in Salvatierra, Mexico. The partnership hopes to produce enough indigo for more than 60 million pairs of jeans per year by 2027.
South Korea polyoxytrimethylene glycol
Comments SK Chemicals has commenced production of biopolyol PO3G (polyoxytrimethylene glycol) at its plant in Ulsan with a capacity of several thousand tonnes which could expand given demand. PO3G is produced via a fermentation platform, with corn grains/starch being the feedstock. The brand name of this material is ECOTRION.
Germany €750 mln polyurethane
Comments Dongsung Chemical is partnering with Germany’s UPM Biochemical to produce polyurethane based on UPM Biochemicals biobased monoethylene glycol (MEG), UPM BioPura™. UPM is building a commercial-scale biorefinery at Leuna in Saxony-Anhalt, expected to be operational end of 2023.
Slovenia nylon-6
Comments Genomatica and its partner, the Italian nylon maker Aquafil successfully completed the first demonstration of multiton production of biobased nylon 6. The plant is located at an Aquafil facility in Slovenia

 

 

Endnote

1 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2022/synthetic-biology-is-about-to-disrupt-your-industry