Amber Waves of Potential

How BioAmber is closer to achieving commercial scale than one might think
By Bryan Sims | May 20, 2011

Don’t mistake BioAmber Inc. as a biochemical company that would gloat or come off as pretentious when it comes to having the confidence that its two biobased product offerings derived from agricultural residues—succinic and adipic acid—will someday enter the commercial market.

“We think we have a pretty good business plan,” Mike Hartmann, vice president of corporate affairs, tells Biorefining Magazine.

In April, BioAmber joined forces with Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. in the field of biobased succinic acid, in a strategic agreement that makes BioAmber and Mitsubishi Chemical’s distribution partner, Mitsui & Co., exclusive suppliers of biobased succinic acid to Mitsubishi Chemical. As a result, the three companies plan to conduct a feasibility study to build a succinic acid production facility adjacent to Mitsubishi’s planned polybutylene succinate (PBS) production plant in Thailand.

BioAmber and Mitsubishi Chemical also intend to incorporate elements of Mitsubishi’s succinic acid technology into BioAmber’s biobased succinic acid platform. The goal, according to Hartmann, is to produce low-cost succinic acid that will drive down the manufacturing cost of Mitsubishi Chemical’s patent-protected PGS, a renewable and biodegradable polymer. BioAmber has begun to supply Mitsubishi Chemical with biobased succinic acid produced at its 2,000-metric-ton-per-year commercial facility in Pomacle, France. BioAmber has also secured the right to source biobased PBS from Mitsubishi Chemical for its modified PBS polymers, which are marketed through its Sinoven Biopolymers subsidiary.

Additionally, BioAmber secured $45 million in a Series B round that will be used to accelerate the commercialization of biobased succinic acid and modified PBS via its forged venture with Mitsubishi Chemical, including funding ongoing development work on biobased succinic acid in collaboration with Cargill Inc., to strengthen its management team and build out its research and development capabilities to accelerate development of its adipic acid platform.

According to Hartmann, BioAmber intends to use a portion of the funds toward the construction of a proposed commercial biobased succinic acid production facility in North America. While a specific location isn’t determined, Hartmann says the company has identified potential sites in Canada and in the Midwestern U.S.

“It all comes down to what kinds of government funding, whether its state, provincial or federal, we can leverage for the project,” Hartmann says. “That’s a definite consideration aside from the logistical issues with siting a project like this.”  —Bryan Sims