BASF, Renmatix sign joint development for industrial sugars from biomass

December 18, 2013 |

Renmatix_BCUHere comes the whale.

“The Chemical Company” jumps deeper into renewables, as Renmatix’s Plantrose technology nabs BASF’s attentions.

Production of industrial sugars from non-edible biomass heads for the next level.

In Pennsylvania and Germany, BASF and Renmatix signed a non-exclusive joint development agreement to scale up the Renmatix Plantrose process for the production of industrial sugars based on lignocellulosic biomass. The parties have agreed to key financial terms for future commercial licenses, which BASF can exercise at its discretion. The collaboration follows BASF’s $30 million investment in Renmatix in January 2012.

“The train is out of the station,” said Renmatix CEO Mike Hamilton, “in terms of the demand for renewable materials. What has to happen now is to enable very cost effective, sustainable solutions to meet that demand.”

The news follows closely on an announce last week by Renmatix and Virent of a strategic collaboration to convert affordable cellulosic sugars to renewable chemicals and bio-based packaging materials. Specifically, under the terms of the multi-phase development project, Renmatix’s Plantrose platform will be evaluated and potentially optimized to provide an affordable sugar stream for Virent’s Bioforming process for the large-scale production of bio-based paraxylene. This is a project which led the Coca-Cola Company to invested in Virent.

It follows by a few months another JDA established with UPM — when the Finnish forest products giant tapped Renmatix as a core partner in their BioFore strategy to expand beyond traditional products and markets.

Sustainability or economics, which is the ultimate driver?

“The winners are going to have both.,” Hamilton told the Digest. “If you are not thinking economics, you’re dreaming, in terms of sustainability. It has to economically allow partners to grow their business. Both – that’s what allows the share shift from petroleum to biobased. Over time the two will find their natural equilibrium.”

Led from downstream and upstream

BASF-logo“What are we seeing? Downstream companies like Unilever, P&G and Coke — creating demand, trying to lead. The problem with people is that they don’t take as much risk as they should, but here you see the leaders taking that risk, establishing demand. And the chemical companies come aboard trying to satisfy that demand and keep their position. And companies like Rematix come along with technology to help enable change. So, we start to establish this value chain, but it has to be competitive.”

How big? 20 percent of the market by 2030?

“20 percent sounds reasonable in terms of the reports we’ve been seeing,. But back that into pounds of sugar — you’re talking 600 million tonnes of sugar. That’s huge. So, even 5-10 percent its a big shift. And you’ll see some areas more blessed than others in terms of oil, or biomass. So what is a reasonable share will vary around the globe. But think of it. Just chemicals — these are trillion dollar markets – there could be a lot of winners.

The agreement

“This more formally ties us together,” said Renmatix CEO Mike Hamilton. “It’s an encouraging day to see a giant like BASF continuing to lead with renewable chemicals. Look at what they have done in recent months. From our point of view, its obvious that one of the hardest things to do in business is to get the first ones like these. These deals are not easy to pull off. But as with UPM and recently with Virent and Coke, there are four quality names here.”

Activity at the Renmatix demonstration plant in Kennesaw, Georgia

Activity at the Renmatix demonstration plant in Kennesaw, Georgia

“Raw material change will only be possible via process innovations that allow the utilization of alternative sources of raw materials,” said Dr. Peter Schuhmacher, President of BASF’s competence center Process Research and Chemical Engineering. “It requires processes like Plantrose, which will be further developed in a joint effort, that enable the use of non-edible biomass as a chemical feedstock and which do not compete with food or feed production. The Plantrose process addresses our needs for renewable raw materials. It will help us to support our customers in developing solutions that contribute to sustainable development.”

The agreement’s global scope

“These are non-exclusive JDAs and its for BASF to determine what they will do,” noted Hamilton. “But clearly they clearly they have a global capability and want to lead in all their key markets. You see the activity with BDO and Genomatica; Cargill and Novozymes also; and also Succinic with Purac. They are starting to lay out a pathway of change. And, here, we are working to help them make that raw material change, so that they are not dependent on food-based sources for sugars.”

Hardwood now – more later?

“Our early work has focused primarily on hardwood to chemical conversions. Our demo facility in Kennesaw, Georgia is focused particularly with hardwoods. We have the facility here in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania to optimize other feedstocks and study further. We’ve seen a lot of success, and I am of the belief that the Plantrose process is highly agnostic in the raw materials. But hardwood is up first with partners who want to move fast move towards capacity and commitments.

Commercial announcements by 2015?

“We are still in the stage of understanding the procurement and engineering, but are going deeper with specific partners on specific configurations,” said Hamilton. “I expect that we’ll work through those in 2014, and one or more of our partners could announce in 2015 where they are building commercial-scale biorefinery.

More on Plantrose

The Plantrose technology developed by Renmatix enables industrial sugar to be produced, at competitive costs, from a variety of non-edible biomass (lignocellulose) sources. The proprietary process breaks down lignocellulosic sources (e.g. wood, agricultural-residues or straw) into industrial sugars using supercritical water (water at high temperature and pressure). Industrial sugars are important building blocks for various basic chemicals and intermediates that can be produced, for example, by fermentative processes.

The availability of these industrial sugars in sufficient quantities and at competitive cost is important to enable both environmentally-friendly and cost-competitive bio-based products. Incorporating biomass feedstocks as a first step in the value chain, creates a raw material change that can reduce reliance on fossil raw material sources like naphtha as principal feedstock.

More on the story. Our coverage of Renmatix continues here.

Tags: ,

Category: Top Stories

Comments are closed.