MEG(a)VENTURE: Braskem, Haldor Topsoe chase down biobased MEG in new commercial deal

November 13, 2017 |

In Brazil and Denmark, Braskem and Haldor Topsoe have signed a technological cooperation agreement to develop a pioneering route to produce monoethylene glycol (MEG) from sugar. The agreement calls for the construction of a demonstration plant in Denmark, with operation slated to begin in 2019.

Topsoe will deliver a packaged solution for this project with Braskem, including catalyst and technology. The companies will combine their expertise to further develop, test and validate the process. The overall goal of the partnership is the start-up of a commercial plant in 2023.

The market


As in, the global MEG market represents a value of $25 billion. MEG is a key component of PET resin, the main man-made raw material used by the textile and packaging industries that is also widely used to make bottles.

The technological edge

The project is based on a two-step process developed at Topsoe’s labs along with own catalysts, and focuses on the conversion of sugar into MEG at a single industrial unit, which will reduce initial investment in the production and boost the competitiveness of the process.

MOnoSAccharide IndustrIal Cracker – or MOSAIK – is a solution for cracking of sugars to an intermediary product which can be further converted to monoethylene glycol (MEG) or other chemicals using Haldor Topsoe’s patented processes and catalysts.

Current processes to produce MEG from biomass involve several steps. This can be reduced to two simple steps with MOSAIK and Topsoe’s unique catalyst and technology for production of MEG. The new solution brings down investment costs and boosts productivity to a level, where it can compete on commercial terms with traditional production from fossil feedstock (naphtha).

The rationale

With the agreement, Braskem wants to expand its portfolio of renewable products to offer new solutions that complement its bio-based polyethylene marketed with the I’m green seal.

Catalysis will be as essential in the sustainable production of chemicals from renewable feedstocks as it has always been in the production from fossil fuels. And in the near future, innovative processes along with customized catalysts and equipment could make chemicals from biomass a real commercial opportunity for producers. One such example is Topsoe’s MOSAIK solution.

The demonstration plant will conduct tests to validate the technology and confirm its technical and economic feasibility, which is a critical step before launching production on an industrial scale and commercial operations. The unit will be flexible to validate the technology in different raw materials such as sucrose, dextrose and second-generation sugars.

The new partnership accelerates the development of the MOSAIK solution that forms the basis for a growing portfolio of bio-based chemicals produced through patented processes.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“With this new partnership, we strengthen our position as protagonists in the development of innovative solutions that will leverage the competitiveness of different biomasses and complement the traditional solutions offered by the petrochemical industry,” said Gustavo Sergi, director of Renewable Chemicals at Braskem.

“This novel bio-based initiative allies a cutting-edge technology with deep expertise in process design, scale-up and industrial operation, which will allow us to push the renewable chemistry to a whole new level. After the Green Polyethylene, this is another major step forward in our vision of using renewable polymers as a carbon capture tool and keep contributing to a more sustainable future.” said Mateus Lopes, head of Innovation in Renewable Chemicals at Braskem.

“Our customers in the chemical industry deal with challenging market conditions on a daily basis. We intend to show that chemicals from biomass can be a commercially attractive option, even in a tough, mature market such as thermoplastic resins,” said Kim Knudsen, Executive Vice President at Haldor Topsoe. “Catalysis will play an extremely important role in the development of sustainable solutions that produce important chemicals from renewable sources such as sugars. We are proud to deliver the ground-breaking technology for the project with Braskem, and we look forward to applying our world-leading competencies within catalysis and process engineering in the further commercialization of this important technology.”

The Braskem backstory

Last December, we reported on a partnership between Braskem, NASA and MadeInSpace has developed a technology “hat is critical to future manned missions including Mars exploration” – and we are doing this with a bioplastic, Braskem “I’m green” polyethylene. In summary, the bioplastic is currently in use in the International Space Station where a zero-gravity 3D printer uses it to produce tools and components.

In September 2018 we reported that Natural cleaning products brand Seventh Generation is using biobased polyethylene produced by Braskem in its 100-oz laundry detergent bottles. The bottles are now 80% recycled high-density polyethylene, 17% biobased polyethylene, and 3% colorant. The biobased portion replaces virgin, petroleum-based polyethylene.

We reported in November 2015 that Genomatica and Braskem announced they have been successfully producing butadiene at lab scale since June 2015, using their direct, bio-based process. The companies are jointly developing a commercial process for the on-purpose production of butadiene made from renewable feedstocks, as announced in December 2013.

The Haldor Topsoe backstory

Last month, we reported that St1 continues its series of investments targeting to begin the production of renewable diesel in 2020 at its refinery in Gothenburg, Sweden. The company has now signed an engineering design package and license agreement with Haldor Topsoe for a renewable diesel production unit, which would be integrated with the St1 Refinery. The construction of the plant will be subject to final investment decision after completion of the design in spring 2018 and after obtaining required environmental permit.

In 2014, we reported that the Gas Technology Institute and Haldor Topsoe completed their integrated biorefinery to make drop-in gasoline at the pilot scale. The project converted wood into bio-derived gasoline by fully integrating and optimizing biomass gasification and syngas cleanup steps with a unique process to turn syngas into gasoline.

Haldor is also a project partner with Red Rock Biofuels for their proposed wood-to-jet fuel project in Oregon that has strong grant support from the US Department of Defense. “We’re working with Haldor Topsoe,” Red Rock CEO Terry Kulesa told the Digest in 2015. “We could have used the UOP [hydroprocessing] technology, too, but we found Haldor Topsoe more willing to work with a smaller company. This project is like falling off a log for them.”

The Bottom Line

Essentially, see this as another big global market where Braskem has a green alternative — that’s been well-proven by companies such as Coca-Cola using a biobased MEG in their 30% renewable plant bottle. Here comes even more production capacity to supply that market — and for Braskem, a significant step beyond green polyethylene to a platform technology in MOSAIK that could go in a number of interesting directions down the line. Something big is going bigger.

More on the story.

Check out the Braskem story here.


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