Canadian co. seeks to penetrate biobased aspartic acid market

By Bryan Sims | December 08, 2011

The aspartic acid of today is comparatively different than when first discovered in 1827 from the boiling of asparagines, a crystalline amino acid found in proteins and many plants, after being isolated from asparagus juice in 1806 with a base. Flexible Solutions International Inc. out of Victoria, British Columbia, however, has devised a novel route for producing biobased aspartic acid from plant sugars rather than oil. Aspartic acid is, together with glutamic acid, classified as an acidic amino acid. The carboxylate salt of aspartic acid, aspartate, is pervasive in biosynthesis. 

Last month FSI reached commercial operating status of its 5,000-metric-ton-per-year aspartic acid production facility in Taber, Alberta. Given the innovative nature of the biochemical process, according to the company, plans are to ramp up production at facility over the course of several months. Scale-up is expected to increase at a rate concurrent with training staff, maintaining quality and safety, ensuring economic yield, solving any potential unknown problems and streamlining volume growth. As a result, some capital expenditure will be required as volume ramps up. Working capital and existing bank lines, the company said, will be used to finance this growth. It anticipates the capital requirements won’t be large enough to demand equity financing.

“Because this is a first-of-its-kind process, not only has this project been a difficult one, it has taken far more time than initially expected,” said Dan O’Brien, CEO of FSI. “Our team in Taber was asked to be very flexible as the project advanced, and I am proud that whenever new responsibilities arose, the FS team embraced them.”

As production volumes of aspartic acid ramp up at the Taber facility, O’Brien said the product will be supplied to a protein-based polymer manufacturing facility operated by NanoChem Solutions Inc., a subsidiary of FSI, located in Bedford Park, Ill., where it will be converted into a biobased, biodegradable trademarked brand of polyaspartic acid (TPA) called Aspure. TPA beta-proteins are produced from the common isomer of aspartate, L-aspartic, and are used in a range of applications such as corrosion inhibitors, detergent ingredients, water treatment and crop enhancement.

“Aspure will be marketed first to customers who require a sustainable product and, although FSI faces significant growth in demand for TPA, output from the Taber plant will continue to be expanded so that most of our aspartic acid is derived from sugar rather than oil.”

In addition to biobased aspartic acid production, FSI’s divisions also manufacture energy and water conservation products for drinking water, agriculture, industrial markets and swimming pools throughout the world such as WaterSavr, the world’s first commercially viable water evaporation retardant and Heatsavr, a “liquid blanket” evaporation retardant for the commercial swimming pool and spa markets, as well as the company’s Ecosavr products.