Myriant, Davy sign MOU for biobased BDO production process
Myriant Technologies and Davy Process Technology, a Johnson Matthey Co., have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly develop a process that employs Myriant’s biobased succinic acid for the production of butanediol (BDO), tetrahydrofuran and gamma-butyrolactone. According to Myriant Chief Operating Officer Cenan Ozmeral, the joint development agreement outlined by the MOU is expected to be finalized within a month.
Globally, there is a 2.5 billion pound BDO market, Ozmeral said. There are several processes used to produce BDO, with slightly less than half the capacity employing a technology developed by Davy. Davy’s process essentially converts fossil-based feedstocks into succinic acid, which is further refined into BDO. Other BDO processes do not employ an intermediate succinic acid step.
The idea was to approach companies that employ Davy’s process to make BDO, Ozmeral said. “Because of that, we approached Davy, the process owner,” he said. “Davy does not operate plants. It’s a technology provider that licenses [its technology].”
There is approximately 1 billion pounds of BDO capacity that utilizes Davy’s technology, Ozmeral said. “If you look at the molecular weight difference between BDO and succinic acid, succinic acid is heavier—about 1.3 [times] heavier—so you need to consume about 1.3 billion pounds of succinic acid to make 1 billion pounds of BDO,” Ozmeral said, noting the BDO market represents a significant market opportunity for Myriant’s biobased product.
The project being pursued by Myriant and Davy will allow new and existing Davy licensees the opportunity to manufacture renewable BDO. The agreement has two phases. First, Davy is working to ensure Myriant’s succinic acid can be effectively employed in its system. “Davy has been testing our product in its continuous pilot plant for several months now,” Ozmeral said. While the chemistry has already been proven to work, Ozmeral said Davy’s technology features a valuable catalyst that is used to process the succinic acid into BDO. “You don’t want to introduce something into the process that kills the catalyst, so Davy is making sure…there is nothing in our product that will hurt the catalyst. So far, so good, but it will take a few more months of continuous testing [to finish the evaluation].”
Successful completion of the evaluation portion of the partnership will allow existing Davy licensees the option to replace its fossil feedstock with Myriant’s biobased succinic acid.
The second part of the agreement will involve the development of an intermediate step that could be employed in future plants to allow Myriant’s fermentation broth to directly be processed into BDO via Davy’s technology. According to Ozmeral, Myriant’s succinic acid process consists of two primary steps: fermentation and downstream processing. The succinic acid that comes out of the fermentation step is a broth that consists of approximately 10 percent succinic acid and 90 percent water. The downstream process purifies and crystallizes the succinic acid so it can be sold into the market. “That tends to be as expensive—if not more expensive—than the fermentation step” in terms of capital and operating expenses, Ozmeral said.
Myriant and Davy plan to jointly develop an intermediate processing step that new Davy licensees would have the option of installing. Those who want to produce renewable BDO could elect to bypass Davy’s traditional front end processing, which converts fossil-based feedstock into succinic acid, and instead choose to have their BDO plant take in Myriant’s fermentation broth via a jointly developed intermediate step that would tie into Davy’s BDO production process.
According to Ozmeral, these plants would take in succinic acid fermentation broth produced onsite by Myriant. While Davy is focused on technology licensing, Ozmeral said Myriant’s business model is to build, own and operate. A BDO producer would be able to license Davy’s process and purchase fermentation broth created onsite by Myriant. Myriant would also have the option to build, own and operate the intermediate processing step that is being developed jointly by both companies. In that case, Myriant would pay a royalty fee to Davy. Alternatively, Myriant can elect not to build, own and operate the intermediate step, in which case the plant owner would license that portion of the process from both Myriant and Davy.
According to Ozmeral, work to develop the intermediate processing technology is expected to begin as soon as the joint development agreement is finalized. “We have already mobilized our engineers for the first meeting,” he said. “Most of the work will be done at Davy’s pilot plant in England. We will provide engineers, and they will provide engineers. We expect to have some results with a preliminary design within 12 months after that.”
Ozmeral also stresses that the partnership with Davy will not be Myriant’s only focus with regard to succinic acid production. In addition to the BDO market, Myriant is also investigating the use of succinic acid in several other chemical markets, such as a replacement for adipic acid and for use in manufacturing plasticizers. In addition to biobased succinic acid, Ozmeral also said Myriant is has several additional biobased chemical products in the pipeline, which are anticipated to roll out over the next three to four years.