Heard on the Floor at the BIO World Congress: Iowa, plastics, benzene, Queensland, skin care, jet fuel in the mix

July 18, 2018 |

BIO CEO Jim Greenwood kicks off the World Congress plenary program with opening remarks.

Yep, the Congress heads to the Heartland

The rounds of applause at BIO have been loud and steady but the biggest ones were heard not for a presentation or a speaker — rather, BIO’s decision to stage the World Congress next year in Des Moines. It breaks a lengthy streak away from the industry’s heartland in the midwestern US. What has the industry cheering is the prospect for many of a “drive-in” World Congress, with so many companies within driving distance, including POET,  Dow, Cargill, ADM and Corteva’s dual HQs in Des Moines and Indianapolis. The airlines’ loss is the industry’s gain, and the kudos have been in plentiful supply.

Tech on the Move

DuPont’s effervescent Mike Saltzberg, whose energy levels are high enough as polymer presenters go that he might possibly qualify as a quasar, took the stage to introduce delegates to the world of biobased plastic alternatives, much in the news of late especially in ocean-protecting circles. 

Specifically, his presentation was on the FDME / Furan Polymer technology  that DuPont and ADM have been working on furaniously. to coin a phrase.

“What the heck is going on at DuPont?” Saltzberg posed the question on many minds, and gave the high level guidance. For those new to the story, last year there was the Dow-DuPont merger, aimed at forming three separate companies out of the joining of the two behemoths. One, is the new Corteva Agriculture, a combiantion of the old DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences that will be spun off next spring. Elsewhere, the rejuvenated and reshuffled Dow will focus on materials science and a reshuffled technologies under the DuPont name will focus on Speciality Products and a long tradition of world class application development.

We’ll have to see how it works out in packaging. The Dow and DuPont split, that is. Plastics have been a long-standing Dow speciialty. But what about biobased? DuPont Industrial Biosciences really has come up with something in its collab with ADM. 

In short, less plastic that can do the same job. It’s taking advantage of the exceptional gas properties of FDCA-based plastics, which a number of companies have been working at, among them Corbion , Synvina and Origin Materials. Why make FDME instead of FDCA? Stabilization, shipping and purification issues apply, for now, says DuPont.  The feedstock? Corn sugars.

It’s got the industry buzzing. Customers have become more jaded of late about embracing alternatives that are plant-based and nothing more. But, spending less on packaging? That’s a pitch with perennial appeal. The applications abound for FDME — polyesters, polyamides, resins. The list is long, and will take years to unfold, we suspect. But, it’s packaging first.

It ties in to an interesting flip-of-the-usual-priorities as usually on display in the “We’re Biobased” Pride Parade. The renewable chemical priorities used to sum up as “same molecule, same price, only sustainable”

As Timothy Leary might have put it: Drop-in, tune out petroleum, turn on to sustainable.

“DuPont Biomaterials is focusing on performance first,” Saltzberg told The Digest. “That means high performance through application development. The other two legs of the stool? “Accessible & affordable through scalable supply” — and “Responsible biomaterials through Renewable Sourcing.”

When you compare the DuPont approach with the usual one, sustainability is there but not in the lead; it’s about performance edge instead of drop-in replacement. Why? 

“The drop-in idea was really popular, but people began to ask the obvious question,” Saltzberg noted, “if there’s no performance advantage all you have is the  remote possibility that companies would pay a green premium, or that you could beat an established petroleum-based chemical on price. With petroleum you start with a highly reduced feedstock and a century of refining the processes. What are the real chances that a biobased feedstock with so much oxygen in it to begin with would be able to compete at smaller scale refineries? There were specific opportunities like succinic acid, where you have a fantastic molecule that really is much easier to produce from biobased feedstocks — but then you have the problem that has plagued companies, no one wants it because they haven’t developed the applications for it.”

People on the Move

Amyris hosted the Welcome Reception at BIO this year and announced two executive appointments for Biossance, which it notes is ow the fastest selling skincare brand in North America. Caroline Hadfield was promoted to President of Biossance, and is recognized for leading its launch and subsequent success with consumers looking for clean, non-toxic skincare that delivers superior performance. In addition, Catherine Gore will join as Senior Vice President, Sales, Marketing & Education for Biossance. Formerly, a Global Vice President and General Manager of Kendo, including Marc Jacobs Beauty, and the Vice President of Merchandising for Sephora Collection, Ms. Gore will be responsible for revenue growth and sales channel execution.

Sustainable and eco-friendly bioplastics developer SECOS Group Limited appointed seasoned business finance and change management professional David Wake as a Non-Executive Director of the Company, effective 16 July 2018. Mr Wake brings commercial experience from a number of senior executive positions over a 30-year record in the global plastics industry.

At Queensland Life Sciences’ reception this week, the Queensland Government announced the appointment of former US Navy Director of Operational Energy Chris Tindal as a special strategic advisor to the government for sustainable fuels. Tindal is also serving as assistant director of CAAFI and as an adjunct professor at Queensland University of Technology in a busy post-Navy career. 

Organizations on the Move

Tindal and other Digesterati will be heading west early this week for Red Rock Biofuels’ groundbreaking ceremony for its first biorefinery this Wednesday in Lakeview, Oregon.  Once operational, each year it will convert approximately 136,000 dry tons of waste woody biomass into approximately 15 million gallons of renewable jet, diesel and gasoline blendstock fuels.  In addition to directly reducing carbon emissions, Red Rock’s usage of waste woody biomass as a feedstock will reduce the risk of devastating forest fires in the western United States.

IR1 Group LLC is the EPC Contractor for the project and on site construction is slated to begin in July with project partner Swaggart Brothers Inc., a subsidiary of Wood and based in Hermiston, Oregon.  Construction and commissioning are expected to take approximately 24 months to complete. 

Breakthroughs were reported at Anellotech’s TCat-8 pilot plant in the company’s advance work on 100% bio-based plastic bottle prototypes, The company’s thermal catalytic process converts non-food biomass feedstock material into BTX aromatics, a group of renewable chemicals identical to their petro-based counterparts. These can be used to make a range of bio-based polymers such as nylon, polycarbonates, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and industrial chemicals such as LAB (linear alkyl benzene), which is used in laundry detergents.

Since the announcement of a successful two-week continuous pilot plant trial in March 2018, over 1,200 hours of cumulative on-stream time have been achieved at TCat-8, while BTX has been generated for product testing and evaluation and process development data collected for future commercial plant design. 

The first shipment of BTX has now been sent to joint development partners IFPEN and Axens for purification studies to make bio-paraxylene – the key aromatic chemical needed to make 100% renewable beverage bottles a reality. Bio-paraxylene from TCat-8 will be used to make renewable PET resin for prototype bottle manufacture and product testing.  

The news may bring benzene customers off the sidelines — many thought this key molecule would simply not ever have a sustainable alternative. Now with 1200 operating hours speaking to a stable catalyst and product is shipping to customers. Anellotech has long to travel on its journey — but benzene skeptics have to be reconsidering their positions right now.

Praj Industries CEO Pramod Chaudhari and QRFA executive director Larissa Rose ink Praj’s new membership in QRFA.

Queensland spent yet another day in the headlines  with news that Praj Industries joined the Queensland Renewable Fuels Association, and that QRFA signed an MOU with the Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials. 

RSB and QRFA will work to boost the profile and importance of certification of biofuels in the region in order to support the objectives of developing low-carbon fuel opportunities and projects that assist with decarbonizing transport across Queensland, Australia and the globe.

“Globally we are seeing the impact of regional initiatives, like the Queensland Renewables Fuels Association,” said RSB Executive Director, Rolf Hogan. “Developing global partnerships are important to support connectivity between current and emerging stakeholders within our domestic supply chain,” added Larissa Rose, Managin Director at Queensland’s Renewable Fuels Association.

What’s up with Synata? There’s a persistent rumor going around that Synata Bio’s facility in Kansas is for sale. This is the old Abengoa cellulosic ethanol plant that opened in 2014 with a lot of fanfare but shut down following the parent companies debt load problems which mostly flowed from their solar investments. Synata recently raised a large amount of capital — which typically would be used to fund deployment of technology at a first commercial plant.

Adidas dumps virgin plastics. Well, not really a rumor now, it’s out in international media now. In a blow to plastic manufacturers and possibly even alternative biobased suppliers, word surfaced that Adidas committed only to use recycled plastics by 2024. The brand appears to be phase our virgin polyester within six years.

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