Codexis, Chemtex collaborate in biobased detergent market

By Bryan Sims | August 02, 2011

Redwood City, Calif.-based Codexis Inc. and global technology and engineering firm Chemtex, a subsidiary owned by Italy’s Gruppo Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G), have forged a broad collaboration to develop and produce sustainable alcohols derived from cellulosic biomass for use in the household products market.

Specifically, the process will use Codexis’ proprietary CodeEvolver directed evolution technology with Chemtex’s trademarked PROESA pretreatment and viscosity reduction technology to enable more cost-effective production of detergent alcohols from cellulosic feedstocks such as straw, sugarcane bagasse and energy crops.

Detergent alcohols—a $6 billion worldwide market—are surfactants that stabilize mixtures of oil and water. They’re widely used in laundry detergents, shampoos and other consumer products. Detergent alcohols today are made from unsustainable palm kernel and petroleum sources.

Under the terms of the agreement, Chemtex will provide engineering services for the design and construction for Codexis’ future commercial facilities for the production of biobased detergent alcohols. Codexis will market products resulting from the collaboration.

Both companies expect to have the production process piloted at Chemtex’s research and development facility in Rivalta, Italy and, subsequently, deploy the process at Chemtex’s 40,000-metric-ton-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy, which is slated to be operational by next year.

According to Dennis Leong, Chemtex’s executive vice president of marketing and business development, the collaboration with Codexis further validates the company’s break-through PROESA (Italian acronym meaning “production of ethanol from biomassa”) technology platform as one that can feasibly accelerate growth in the biotech sector.

“We started off looking at a second-generation ethanol technology," Leong told Biorefining Magazine, "and we discovered that our front-end pretreatment and the viscosity reduction steps are ideal for producing fermentable sugars and giving them to biotech companies to convert them into chemicals."

Both Codexis and Chemtex have had a busy year this year, achieving respective milestones and forming alliances.

In April, Chemtex and Genomatica formed a collaboration to combine Chemtex’s PROESA technology for converting biomass into fermentable sugars with Genomatica’s system for making Bio-BDO. Chemtex also has a collaboration going with Amyris Inc. to optimize production of its biobased farnesene, trademarked Biofene, product portfolio. In April, Chemtex also broke ground on a 40,000-metric-ton-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Northern Italy for its parent company M&G.

“I think the fact that three of the top 10 [biorefining firms] (depending on how you rank them) have assessed our technology and have entered into a collaboration agreement is a testimony to how strong our technology platform is,” Leong said.

Likewise, Codexis scaled up production of its cellulase enzymes at a contract fermentation and synthesis production facility in Mexico City. The Fermic S.A. de C.V facility completed a 20,000- liter batch using its CodeEvolver enzyme expression system. Additionally, Codexis and Royal Dutch Shell have a research and development collaboration agreement that is focused on the development of cellulosic ethanol, a nascent industry Leong said Chemtex intends to help develop, particularly in the U.S., once the company’s demo facility in Crescentino becomes operational.

“It’s big,” Leong said. “We hope to make a big splash in the biofuels market.”

Given Chemtex’s current biorefining alliances, Leong expects the company will remain open to additional partnerships with other emerging biorefining firms that may be looking to Chemtex for its cellulosic sugar technology platform and engineering capabilities.”

“I think you can expect more press releases from Chemtex in the coming weeks and months,” Leong said. “I’d like to get a press release out as soon as we can once we put some cellulosic ethanol in the U.S. market. We’re getting close, but we’re not quite there yet.”