Engineering News

Novozymes: Bio-Based Chemicals Market Gaining Momentum
September 3, 2012

NEW YORK (ICIS)--Denmark-based Novozymes continues to expand its industrial biotechnology portfolio for chemicals production as development for bio-based products gain momentum, a company official said.

While the contribution of biotechnology is still modest in the chemical industry, biochemicals could contribute as much as 17% of the global chemical market by 2025, according to Novozymes.

"The underlying objective here for Novozymes is to keep pushing us towards a bio-based economy," said Rasmus von Gottberg, vice president of Novozymes in a Thursday interview with ICIS.

"In our development of bio-based acrylic acid, for example, we believe that there is a good potential to come up with a cost process that is competitive with the petrochemical-based route," he added.

Novozymes is primarily developing the enzymes or microorganisms that enable production of biochemicals while partnering with chemical companies or agricultural processors.

The company has partnered with US agribusiness Cargill since 2008 in the development of 3-hydroxypropionic (3-HP) from renewable feedstock as a possible chemical precursor to producing acrylic acid.

Novozymes and Cargill recently partnered with German chemical firm BASF to produce bio-based acrylic acid from 3-HP. BASF plans to initially use the bio-based acrylic acid to manufacture superabsorbent polymers (SAP).

"We are still finalising the development of the strains that can convert glucose to 3-HP. We will be ready for pilot-scale fermentation in six months or so," said Von Gottberg.

"We are right on track with our development, which is still within the timeline that we predicted since 2008," he added. "Along with Cargill, we are jointly concentrating the steps to get into the 3-HP manufacturing. BASF will then bring their chemical and technology expertise for the conversion of 3-HP to acrylic acid."

The annual global market for acrylic acid is at 4.5m tonnes with a value of $11bn (€8.8bn) as of 2011, according to Novozymes. The company added that the market has been growing at a rate of 4%/year.

Novozymes has also been working with agribusiness firm Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) on the development of its first biochemical building block, malic acid, which is currently used as a flavour enhancer in the food industry, said Von Gottberg.

Malic acid is mostly produced today using a petrochemical feedstock through a chemical synthesis process. The company recently announced that it is now out-licensing the microorganism that enables production of malic acid. The C4 dicarboxylic acid can also be converted into various derivatives including 1,4 butanediol (BDO).

The malic acid is express in a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. Von Gottberg said Novozymes has several decades of experience in working with this type of fungus.

"This is why it has been possible for us to come up with high yield and high productivity of malic acid. We have now completed the strain developments and we are talking to both companies from the food ingredients industry and chemical markets," said Von Gottberg.

The annual global market for malic acid is at 60,000 tonnes and valued at $130m with a growth rate of 4%/year, according to Novozymes.

"We have insights on roughly what the cost levels are for the current petro-based malic acid production. We believe our technology can be competitive against the current petrochemical route," he added. ($1 = €0.80)

Source: Chemical News & Intelligence

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