Global Bioenergies heads for demo scale: a magic path to isobutane in sight

April 2, 2015 |

Global-Image2Construction of the German demo plant started. Additional 4.4 million euros financing secured

In France, Global Bioenergies announced that it has completed the financing of its demo plant, and is commencing construction immediately. The 5,000L demonstration-scale facility will be completed in spring 2015, and will be located at Leuna, near Leipzig in German, and will have a production capacity of up to 100 tons per year, enabling the delivery of samples to industrialists. This second pilot is the final step in Global Bioenergies’ development program before the full scale exploitation of the isobutene process.

More about Global Bioenergies

Global Bioenergies is developing a direct process to convert renewable resources into hydrocarbons through fermentation. Since inception, the company focused its efforts on the production of isobutene — a four carbon, gaseous molecule that is currently derived via the C4 cut from steam cracking fossil petroleum.  Isobutene can be converted into isooctane for fuels, butyl rubber for tires, organic glass, or PET for plastics.


Global Bioenergies continues to improve the yield of this process and prepares the phase dedicated to industrial pilot testing. The company recently replicated this success to propylene and butadiene and is also looking to continue with other members of the gaseous olefins family, key molecules at the heart of petrochemical industry.

Using the company’s innovative approach to produce gaseous olefins identical to those currently produced massively from fossil oil ensures the sustainability of industries that rely on these products: indeed, fuels derived from isobutene are fully miscible with fossil fuels. Existing storage and distribution infrastructures will continue to be used and thus allow a transition towards renewable fuels that will not require additional investments or adaptive efforts from end users.


These gaseous olefins will also allow the production of materials (plastics, rubbers, Plexiglas…) in existing industrial infrastructures. Relying on these infrastructures will facilitate the transition towards the use of these biosourced products.

Second-generation isobutene

Last month, the company announced the production of  “second generation” isobutene, in a push to diversify accessible feedstock towards cheaper resources. Global Bioenergies had been using first generation feedstock, such as wheat-derived glucose, to set-up and optimize its bio-isobutene process. However, the process was designed to be versatile in terms of feedstock. With the right technical adaptations, it would indeed be well suited to the usage of non-edible resources – widely defined as “second generation” – such as wheat straw, corn stover, sugar cane bagasse or even wood chips.

The prospects for butadiene

Back in late 2012, Global Bioenergies and Synthos had announced the discovery of a direct biological pathway to convert renewable resources into butadiene, a light olefin lying at the heart of the petrochemical industry. In July 2011, Global Bioenergies entered into a strategic partnership with Synthos, a $1.2billion revenues European leader in rubber manufacturing. The agreement aimed at developing a process to convert renewable feedstock into butadiene. Global Bioenergies will receive royalty payments from Synthos on bio-sourced butadiene used for the manufacturing of rubber, while retaining the exclusive rights for non-rubber applications, such as nylon, plastics and latexes, representing an existing market exceeding $6 billion. Presently, 10 million tons of butadiene are produced each year from oil, representing a market exceeding $20 billion. 7 million tons are used to manufacture rubbers; 3 million tons are used to manufacture nylon, plastics and latexes.

Background on the demo project

Global Bioenergies originally announced in January 2014 that it will build what it termed at the time “a second industrial pilot” on the site of the Leuna refinery, close to Leipzig in Germany. This new pilot plant, to be supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research through a $7 million grant, would include a 3 year study at the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes.

This second facility represents a 10X jump in scale from the company’s first project, and will allow for a much purer isobutene product to be collected — required for certain downstream applications such as butyl rubber polymerization.

In June 2013, Global Bioenergies had announced the launch of its first industrial pilot in the heart of the Bazancourt-Pomacle biorefinery, close to Reims. This first pilot, to be run through a collaboration with Arkema and the CNRS, is supported by a EUR 5.2 million state financing through the French “Investissements d’Avenir” program. This first industrial pilot will set the bases for large scale exploitation of the isobutene process in its application to methacrylics.


Last February, the company reached the first milestone of the BioMA+ project, which is financed by the French “Investissements d’Avenir” state program, and conducted at the company’s first industrial pilot facility.  The project aims at developing a renewable value chain to methacrylic acid, a key constituent of acrylic paints. Achieving this first milestone result unlocked  a $1.93 million payment. ARD, a subsidiary of the sugar refiner Cristal Union, is in charge of the pilot’s exploitation and now carries out on a weekly basis fermentation trials mimicking exploitation at full-scale.

Background on the financing and construction

Financing for the demo-scale plant was competed via a 4.4 million euro loan reimbursable over 5 years. This loan has been secured from a consortium composed of BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, CIC and Bpifrance. It is covered by guarantee funds of the Ile-de-France Region managed by Bpifrance. The demo plant’s financing is also supported by a 5.7 million euro subsidy granted end 2013 by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).  The grant is part of the German government’s overall support of the Fraunhofer CBP, inaugurated in October 2012 by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the BioEconomy Cluster.

A first phase has consisted in the construction of an industrial pilot on the agro-industrial site of Pomacle-Bazancourt. Successful start-up was achieved in 2014 and the pilot is now fully operational.

This new financing will cover the purchase of a complete fermentation unit, comprising an inoculation fermenter, a propagation fermenter, and a 5,000L production fermenter. Each are fully instrumented and surrounded by satellite vessels. This unique installation has been specifically designed for the production of gaseous hydrocarbons. It will be installed on the Fraunhofer CBP site within the Leuna refinery.

Ales Bulc, General Manager of Global Bioenergies GmbH comments: “The construction phase of our demo plant now begins. It will be delivered in 2016. The first batches will be commercialized in specific niche markets and will also allow the qualification of our renewable isobutene in all its applications. Isobutene and its derivatives today represent a 15 million tonne market globally.”

Francois-Henri Sahakian, Global Bioenergies’ Chief Financial Officer concludes: “This 4.4 million euro loan has been secured from several of France’s largest banks on the basis of the convincing results obtained on our pilot plant of Pomacle-Bazancourt. Accessing such a significant bank financing testifies of the level of trust Global Bioenergies now inspires to its partners.”

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