LanzaTech produces chemical building blocks

By Luke Geiver
Posted August 30, 2010, at 11:50 a.m. CST

LanzaTech NZ Ltd., a New Zealand-based producer of fuels from waste gas, has successfully produced a building block used to make polymers, plastics and hydrocarbon fuels. The 2,3-butanediol (2,3-BD) product can be used in gasoline blendstocks, fuel additives, synthetic rubbers, plastic polymers, coatings, sealants and adhesives. More importantly, Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech said, "Collectively, these chemicals represent a growing market of over $40 billion per year."

Conventional production methods for both polymers and plastics typically require the cracking of petroleum or fermentation of sugars, but LanzaTech's process uses low-value gas feedstock from steel mills, oil refineries, coal manufacturers or landfill waste and reformed natural gas. Along with a microbial catalyst that can co-produce both 2,3-BD and ethanol, Holmgren said the robust catalyst combined with the non-petroleum, non-food feedstock, allows LanzaTech to produce the products at a commercial rate.

"We are producing 2,3-BD at both our lab and pilot facilities in Parnell, New Zealand and also our pilot plant at the Bluescope (NZ Steel) mill in Glenbrook," said Holmgren. "We have extracted 2,3-BD from our fermentation broth at both and we will be demonstrating our process on a larger scale at our demonstration plant in Shanghai, China in the second half of 2011."

For the chemical and polymer industries, Holmgren said the commercial availability of competitively priced, non-petroleum derived basic petrochemicals will be very significant, as they provide a means to make end-products with lower carbon intensity that will sequester carbon over the product's lifecycle. "Our technology is particularly relevant to companies, and indeed countries, that are currently exposed to international crude oil and naphtha pricing, as our process allows them to effectively decouple chemical cost from these feedstocks," she added.

Converting the 2,3-BD into other basic chemicals involves "straight forward and well-understood thermochemical processes such as catalytic dehydration and reductive elimination," Holmgren said, and LanzaTech is already identifying and developing ways to integrate those processes into its waste-gas process to maximize energy efficiency.