Biobased chemical plants develop in Brazil, France

By Erin Voegele
Two companies are moving forward with respective plans to produce biobased chemicals in Brazil and France. A project being undertaken by Brazilian thermoplastic resin producer Braskem will manufacture green polyethylene from sugarcane-based ethanol, while a joint venture known as Bioamber SAS has begun construction of a biobased succinic acid plant in Pomacle, France.

According to Braskem spokesman Nelson Lataif, the process to produce polyethylene from sugarcane is simple in concept. "Sugar in the form of sucrose is extracted from the sugarcane and fermented to produce ethanol," he said. "This is dehydrogenated to ethylene, which is subsequently polymerized to polyethylene."

The proposed Braskem facility will be located at the Southern Petrochemical Complex in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and will have the capacity to produce 200,000 tons of ethylene and polyethylene annually. To do this, the plant will consume approximately 400,000 tons of ethanol each year. However, the polyethylene plant won't be integrated with an ethanol plant. "Braskem will purchase [ethanol] as a commodity," Lataif said. The conceptual and basic design phase of the project is complete. The detailing phase and construction are expected to begin in early 2009, with operational start-up scheduled for 2011.

The Bioamber joint venture was formed by U.S.-based DNP Green Technology Inc. and French research and development center Agro-Industrie Recherches et Developpements. Its plant is expected to produce approximately 2,000 metric tons (600,000 gallons) of succinic acid each year. The facility will utilize the U.S. DOE's proprietary E. coli bacterium, which is under exclusive license to DNP Green Technology and has been optimized by Bioamber.

The facility will utilize a fermentation process in which the E. coli feed on sugar and carbon dioxide to produce succinic acid. This can be completed using a wide variety of feedstocks. "Instead of using oil-based [chemical] building blocks we found a way to make the same building blocks with the same functionalities, but using biological processes," said Roger Laurent Bernier, DNP Green Technology's vice president of research and development.

According to Bernier, Bioamber's production facility is being constructed to prove the technology and supply samples of the biobased succinic acid to potential customers. Rather than construct additional facilities, Bioamber plans to license the technology to its customers.