The pile-on for bionylon: ADM, Rennovia, JM accelerate the chase

February 22, 2017 |

BD TS 022317 Rennovia cover sm

Just when we’ve chided ADM for being quieter in the sector than a Sensory Deprivation Chamber, they’ve gone and been associated with two major announcements in the week leading up to ABLC.

From California we learn that Johnson Matthey and Rennovia have signed a license agreement with Archer Daniels Midland Company to provide catalyst and process technology for catalytic production of bio-based glucaric acid.

So, glucaric is hot, adipic is hotter, chemical catalysis is the hottest of all. Glucaric takes you to detergents and cleaners, concrete formulations, de-icing and anti-corrosion markets. Adipic takes you to nylon 6,6, and when I say “who’s going to deliver renewable, affordable adipic” I want you to substitute the phrase “rich like Warren Buffett”  in your mind.

And, think about this. Bio-based nylon 6,6 is interesting from a carbon point of view because you’re making it from renewable sugars that come from plants. It’s sort of like the Plant Bottle, only it’s the Plant Everything Else. So that’s the kind of news that makes puddles of excitement beneath the chairs at Sustainable Brands get-togethers.

For others, the excitement is partly about making nylon from plants, but it’s mostly about making nylon from corn sugars. And if you happen to be, ahem, His Grace Archer D. Midland, The Duke of Corn Sugars and Earl Marshal of Wetmills, that’s a tasty prospect.

The ADM backstory

The big step forward for ADM and Rennovia dates back to 2014, when ADM made a $25 million equity investment in Rennovia. At the time, the partners thought that the company’s first products would be nylon intermediates adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine (HMD).

In July 2015, we reported that Johnson Matthey Process Technologies and Rennovia successfully started-up a mini-plant for production of glucaric acid from glucose.

The collaboration went back father, to March 2014, when Johnson Matthey and Rennovia announced their collaboration to develop and commercialize production technology for bio-based glucaric acid and adipic acid.

The race for bio-based adipic

In some ways, this entire story revolves around the bigger galactic story – the chase for a new source for adipic acid. Think nylon, the wonder material. Friend of low-cost carpet, your latest pair of Jimmy Choo sneakers, or mass-market, ready-to-wear fashion sold at everyday low prices. Adipic is a major precursor.

You want green nylon? (Hint: Nike does, and Toyota) You may need renewably produced adipic acid. Who’s in the nylon hunt? Oh, just a bunch of companies like Ashai Kasei, BASF, DSM, Dupont, Honeywell, Huntsman, Koch, Lanxess, and Rhodia. Add in the “we’re small and nimble” crowd that includes Rennovia. And don’t think that BioAmber and Verdezyne aren’t in the game the second you can say “Oil’s back at $80”

Meanwhile, there are other paths to nylon 6,6. There’s butadiene, generally thought of as a path to polybutadiene rubber (PBR) and styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), two types of synthetic rubbers used globally to replace natural rubber. But also a key intermediate chemical used by INVISTA for the production of adiponitrile (ADN), which in turn is a critical intermediate chemical used in the manufacture of nylon 6,6.

And then there’s glucaric

Glucaric acid, an intermediate in the production of adipic acid, is an emerging platform chemical in its own right, with a wide range of applications in detergents and cleaners, concrete formulations, de-icing and anti-corrosion markets.

Latest from Rennovia

Been a busy year for the Solons of Santa Clara. Most recently, last May Stora Enso and Rennovia inked a joint development and license agreement to cooperate on bio-based chemicals development.

Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies will cooperate to develop processes for bio-based chemicals of interest to Stora Enso, employing Rennovia’s high-throughput catalyst discovery infrastructure and process development expertise. Rennovia focuses on the technology development of novel catalysts and processes for the cost advantaged production of chemicals from renewable feedstocks.

We noted at the time that “everyone’s been waiting for Rennovia to announce the next chapter in their evolution after signing and securing ADM as a major strategic partner. Here is a source of cellulosic sugars and a strategic with big ambitions in biobased materials.”

Chemicals in the Rennovia platform

Chemicals to watch out for? In Rennovia’s portfolio are biobased glucaric acid, adipic acid, 1,6-hexanediol, hexamethylenediamine (HMD), and other important building blocks for a wide range of functional materials. Rennovia has successfully combined its bio-based AA and HMD to produce 100% renewable nylon-6,6. For our money, we think about this as a step towards establishing HMD as a platform.

Keep an eye on Rivertop Renewables?

Sort of. Rivertop’s products are based on salts of glucaric acid. Specifically, sodium glucarate enables superior performance from two Rivertop products. Waterline CI is designed to be a high-performing alternative to phosphorous-based corrosion inhibitors in the water treatment industry. Headwaters corrosion inhibitor for salt brine is used to de-ice winter roads while protecting vehicles and highway infrastructure from corrosion.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“We are proud to announce the licensing of this new and innovative technology to ADM, and we are excited about the future of this technology, which draws upon the fundamental process and catalyst development expertise within Johnson Matthey. This achievement also demonstrates the value of a strong collaborative approach, working together with Rennovia to commercialize a process for bio-based chemicals.” said David Prest, Director of Business Development for Johnson Matthey’s Process Technologies Division.

“ADM continues to work toward commercialization of glucaric acid as a higher value product within our portfolio of bio-based performance chemicals,” said Kevin Moore, President of Renewable Chemicals for ADM.   “We see a strong synergy in leveraging Rennovia’s breakthrough catalyst technology along with the process scale-up capabilities of Johnson Matthey to shorten the time frame needed to bring this new product to market for our customers.”

“We are delighted that ADM has decided to license glucaric acid technology from Rennovia and Johnson Matthey,” said Robert Wedinger, President and CEO of Rennovia. “It demonstrates the commitment of an industry leader and a key partner of Rennovia. We look forward to working even closer together to commercialize our innovative process for the production of cost advantaged glucaric acid.”


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