Eastman Chemical acquires TetraVitae Bioscience assets

By Bryan Sims | November 08, 2011

The consolidation of the biobased chemicals industry by major companies is taking shape as Eastman Chemical Co. integrated the assets of biobased n-butanol and acetone developer TetraVitae Bioscience Inc. into its wholly-owned subsidiary Eastman Renewable Materials LLC.

TetraVitae's core technology lies in a mutant, nongenetically modified organism, Clostridium Beijerinckii, discovered by Hans Blaschek, a professor at the University of Illinois. According to its website, TetraVitae said it’s able to capture the economic advantages of the organism to enable low capital implementation through retrofit of existing ethanol assets.

According to Jeff Needham, sustainable materials development director for Eastman, the acquisition of TetraVitae’s assets align with the company’s comprehensive sustainability strategy by offering customers renewable material content and potential product life cycle benefits.

“TetraVitae Bioscience had made impressive progress in developing a proprietary route to biobased normal butanol and biobased acetone via a patented fermentation organism and proprietary processes,” Needham said. “We expect biobased normal butanol and biobased acetone to be valuable alternatives for our customers to traditional n-butanol and acetone.”

Needham told Biorefining Magazine that TetraVitae personnel will be integrated into Eastman Renewable Materials as part of the acquisition of assets.

In December 2010, TetraVitae successfully retrofitted an integrated corn dry-mill pilot facility at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for production trials of bio n-butanol. During the demonstration at NCERC, TetraVitae worked with the Separations Research Program at the University of Texas in Austin to refine production purification. To achieve this, the company took the raw chemical products produced at NCERC and manufactured purified n-butanol and acetone in a continuous distillation.

Like ethanol, n-butanol is an alcohol, but it’s comprised of four straight-chained carbon molecules as opposed to ethanol’s two-carbon structure. Isobutanol is a different isomer butanol, but its four-carbon molecules are branched, which make it more suitable as a fuel due to its high octane rating and low vapor pressure properties.

Both n-butanol and acetone are widely used as solvents, and as precursors to monomers used in paint resins such as butyl acrylate, butyl methacrylate, methyl methacrylate and methacrylic acid. TetraVitae also developed a route to make 2-ethyl hexanol, which is used extensively in coatings. The company also developed n-butanol as a source for 1-butene, a comonomer in linear low-density polyethylene, the most commonly used material for plastic bags. Acetone and isopropanol are frequently used as solvents in a variety of personal care products.

Needham said detailed plans wouldn’t be shared regarding Eastman’s near-term objectives with the newly-acquired assets of TetraVitae, “but it will likely include eventual commercialization of TetraVitae’s patented biocatalysis process for biobased n-butanol and acetone,” he said.

When asked if Eastman is on the lookout for potentially acquiring similar n-butanol developers in the biorefining space, Needham said the company’s joint venture and acquisition strategy focuses on emerging markets, access to feedstock, differentiated products or markets, and sustainability. While Needham wouldn’t disclose specifically if Eastman is involved in any similar transaction, he did say, “These are the lenses through which we are evaluating possible growth opportunities.”