GlycosBio selects EPC for Malaysian biochemical demo facility

By Bryan Sims | December 15, 2011

Houston-based biochemical firm Glycos Biotechnologies Inc. has selected Toyo Engineering & Construction Sdn Bhd (Toyo Malaysia) to provide engineering, procurement and construction services for its future commercial-scale industrial biochemical production facility, currently in development, in Johor, Malaysia. GlycosBio’s facility will be constructed in Bio-XCell, a government-backed biotechnology park that’s focused on the advancement of industrial and healthcare biotechnology in Malaysia.

According to Richard Cilento, CEO of GlycosBio, site work is underway in preparation for the arrival of initial pieces of equipment by first quarter 2012. Construction of the facility is scheduled for completion by second quarter 2013.

GlycosBio’s commercial facility is being developed in several phases with the first having an annual production rate of approximately 10,000 metric tons (22 million pounds) anticipated to be reached by 2014 with a subsequent scale-up to 30,000 metric tons (66 million pounds) by 2014, according to Cilento. The company’s target product, isoprene, will be derived from crude glycerin sourced from the local Malaysian palm-based biodiesel market and “other distressed oils,” Cilento said, that are either imported or created in country. Isoprene is a key monomer that can be used in the synthetic rubber market.

“Because we’re in Malaysia there’s a large latex [rubber] industry there, as well as Singapore and China, where our product will be going to higher value synthetic rubber products such as latex gloves, medical gloves and other specialty rubber applications,” Cilento told Biorefining Magazine.

While isoprene is the company’s target building block, GlycosBio will initially utilize the facility to validate the ability to produce ethanol from crude glycerin. The company then plans to further demonstrate its flexible technology platform at commercial scale using a range of feedstocks, including fatty acids. Full production of GlycosBio’s facility is expected to follow with the production of isoprene from crude glycerin.

When operational, according to Cilento, it’s anticipated that approximately 10,000 metric tons (22 million pounds) of ethanol would be produced from about 20,000 metric tons (44 million pounds) of crude glycerin at the new Bio-XCell industrial park facility.

“Big picture, the strategy in our company is we use a nonsugar, nonfood-based feedstock,” Cilento said. “We’re not in the Midwest and we’re not in Brazil. As a result of that strategy, we’re uniquely able to be in Asia because a lot of the byproducts both from the palm oil industry (fatty acids) as well as from the biodiesel industry (crude glycerin) are big products in Asia.”

Cilento added that locking in Toyo as its EPC on the new facility will ensure the company stays ahead of its competitors within the biorefining space. 

“Another strategy is getting commercial as quickly as possible,” he said. “That’s why this plan is so important for us because we think many of our competitors continue sort of the science experiment and they’re not able to either finance or see their way to a commercial site. Early 2013 is a pretty short timeframe compared to most peers, even public peers at this point.”

GlycosBio first announced its intention to expand operations in Malaysia in 2010 through its partnership with Bio-XCell and is the first U.S.-based company to begin construction at the industrial park in Johor. Once online, Cilento said the future facility will serve as the prototype for subsequent commercial biorefineries that can be deployed in other regions of the world.

“Our objective is to deploy another production plant in Asia—in addition to this one—within the next four to five years, as well as two plants in North America,” Cilento said.

In addition to the Bio-XCell project, GlycosBio is working closely with BiotechCorp, the national agency set up by the Malaysian government for the development of biotechnology in Malaysia. The company also earned BioNexus status earlier in February, which is a recognition awarded by the Malaysian government to qualified companies that participate in and undertake value-added biotechnology activities in Malaysia.