High Tide for Brontide – Genomatica’s Butylene Glycol and its markets

February 26, 2019 |

If forced to guess in a game of Balderdash, the average citizen might well describe Brontide as a detergent used by the Flintstones back in Bedrock City, right up there name-wise with the BrontoBurger — a memorable chemical indeed it is, but not that one. It’s the marketing name for Genomatica’s butylene glycol, and 21 trucks rolled out from a (Novamont) contracted manufacturing site with 600 tons of the stuff the other day. And therein lies another striking chapter, and a victory, in the story of the advanced bioeconomy.

BG, as the molecule is generally known amongst the formulator community, is one of the linchpins of the personal care and cosmetic industries — in fact, more than 250 formulators have evaluated Brontide for use in their products to date, which gives you a sense of the breadth of its appeal. The overall market is smallish in volume — the 600 tons Genomatica just made represent as much as 1-2 percent of overall global demand. But BG goes at a good price because it’s actually somewhat difficult to make BG from petroleum, and despite the demand for safe, clean ingredients, no one hitherto had come up with an affordable way to make BG from renewable sources.

The Brontide clean product story

Accordingly, Brontide has 50% lower global warming potential than conventional butylene glycol, according to an independent, comprehensive lifecycle analysis (LCA). A summary of the LCA study was featured in the November 2018 issue of SOFW Journal, a publication targeting personal care and home care product formulators. That’s why the interest has been strong since Brontide was first discussed and since sample-sized shipments commenced in 2017 when Genomatica made 12 tons in a demonstration run and to seed the market with samples and provide product for the certifications process.

The shipments

Ultimately, Daicel (Japan) Azelis (EU), and Viachem signed on as distributors, and Genomatica has now commenced commercial-scale production. Genomatica will also be making direct sales in the EU and in North America. One third of this original production run has already been sold, and the stocks are not expected to last long. To request a product sample or learn more, contact Genomatica at [email protected] and visit www.brontidebg.com.

A story about Values

“It’s been kind of exciting,” Genomatica’s senior vice president, Specialty Chemicals, Damien Perriman told the Digest. “Here we are connecting around values, and that’s something different than other products and partnerships. In the past two years, in all the conversations we have had in the personal care industry, not one person has asked us how competitive we are with oil. It’s not in the mindset, because the conversations are about performance and the value set. In this journey into personal care, we’ve been exploring why do people want natural ingredients, and how do we communicate to each other about that. Is it non-GMO, is it organic, how safe is it — these are the questions.”

The shift in value sets by product type

“The values someone has govern how they engage with the supply chain,” Perriman added, “for example, like someone who hates plastic waste in the ocean, these people have this desire to use materials in a closed loop. We see it in plastics and packaging, where there is this movement against single-use plastics, and to reduce ocean waste. These are values that the downstream customer hold, and [our collective job is to understand] how those values influence their decision.”

“In personal care, where you are applying the product to your face, the value of safety [becomes paramount], and they look for things in their supply chain,” said Perriman. “And when they are looking at products on the shelf they are looking on their cell phones and looking at those ingredients — and they are asking, are these good ones or not.”

“So, the value set for personal care doesn’t so much demand a closed loop but would be focused, for instance, on natural ingredients, safety, not having heavy metals,” said Perriman.

Getting to the front of the label

For now, the INCI registry determines how products get labeled, and no matter what the value-set for Brontide and for this renewably sourced BG, it’s going to be called butylene glycol on the back of the label and the chances of changing that any time soon are almost zero. It’s going to be one of a long list of chemicals that most people have no idea what they are, and butylene glycol “sounds chemical” and to a section of the public that “sounds bad”.

One opportunity for renewables and natural ingredients is to help simplify the back of the label by making molecules that are more broadly functional, so you need fewer of them. A shorter list of ingredients that more people are more familiar with — that’s a step forward, and offers a place not only for renewables as a class but Genomatica’s butylene glycol, which can work as an emollient but also in other roles in the formulation.

But the back of the label doesn’t really get into the sourcing of any particular chemical — what’s “chemical” and what’s “natural”. The battleground between the supply chain of old and the supply chain of the future, for some time to come, may well be fought on the front of the label. Sustainability scoring, performance attributes, the clean and natural source that renewably made sugars represent.

Worrisome in this? Consumers are not often connecting with science, but rather with influence groups.

For Genomatica, look for more of these types of molecules.

For a smaller company with a core competency in process development, BG represents the future in many ways — the identification of niches where the company can bring forward candidate molecules where the volumes are attractive, and there’s a real supply chain problem that causes a disconnect with the customers’ value set and which can be solved using biotechnology.

Consider these break points in the supply chain — potential disruptors — and now that Genomatica has built a marketing engine that understands how to move material and moves quickly enough from R&D to seeding and then commercial-scale production, and communicating performance and values — look for more break points to be explored.

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