Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 2011 Small Business Award
Integrated Production and Downstream Applications of Biobased Succinic Acid
Innovation and Benefits: Succinic acid is a true "platform molecule," that is, a starting material for other important chemicals, but the high cost of producing succinic acid from fossil fuels has restricted its use. Now, however, BioAmber is producing succinic acid that is both renewable and lower cost by combining an E. coli biocatalyst licensed from the Department of Energy with a novel purification process. BioAmber's process uses 60 percent less energy than succinic acid made from fossil fuels, offers a smaller carbon footprint, and costs 40 percent less.
Summary of Technology: Succinic acid has traditionally been produced from petroleum-based feedstocks. In addition to its current use in food, drug, and cosmetic applications, succinic acid is a platform molecule that can be used to make a wide range of chemicals and polymers.
BioAmber has developed an integrated technology that produces large, commercial quantities of succinic acid by fermentation rather than from petroleum feedstocks. Since early 2010, BioAmber has been producing succinic acid by bacterial fermentation of glucose in the world's only large-scale, dedicated, biobased succinic acid plant. This $30 million plant includes an integrated, continuous downstream process. BioAmber believes its renewable succinic acid is the first direct substitution of a fermentation-derived chemical for a petroleum-derived chemical.
BioAmber has successfully scaled up an E. coli biocatalyst licensed from the Department of Energy and integrated a novel, water-based downstream purification process. The fermentation process, although pH neutral, produces no significant byproducts. BioAmber's technology produces succinic acid at a cost that is 40 percent below that of petroleum-based succinic acid. Even at oil prices below $40 per barrel, BioAmber's product boasts cost advantages over succinic acid derived from fossil fuels.
BioAmber's economic advantage has given a number of chemical markets the confidence both to use succinic acid as a substitute for existing petrochemicals and to develop new applications for succinic acid. Succinic acid can replace some chemicals directly, including adipic acid for polyurethane applications and highly corrosive acetate salts for deicing applications. BioAmber has also made it economically feasible to (1) transform biobased succinic acid into renewable 1,4 butanediol and other four-carbon chemicals; (2) produce succinate esters for use as nontoxic solvents and substitutes for phthalate-based plasticizers in PVC (poly(vinyl chloride)) and other polymers; and (3) produce biodegradable, renewable performance plastics. BioAmber is leading the development of modified polybutylene succinate (mPBS), a polyester that is over 50 percent biobased and offers good heat-resistance (above 100 °C) and biodegradability (ASTM D6400 compliant). BioAmber's process reduces energy consumption by 60 percent compared to its petrochemical equivalent and actually consumes carbon dioxide (CO2), rather than generating it.
In 2011, BioAmber plans to begin constructing a 20,000 metric ton facility in North America that will sequester over 8,000 tons of CO2 per year, an amount equal to the emissions of 8,000 cross-country airplane flights or 2,300 compact cars annually. BioAmber has also signed partnership agreements with several major companies, including Cargill, DuPont, Mitsubishi Chemical, and Mitsui & Co. The scale up of biobased succinic acid to commercial quantities will expand markets, reducing pollution at the source and increasing health benefits at numerous points in the lifecycles of a variety of chemicals made from succinic acid.
Podcast on the technology:(MP3, 1 MB, 1:05 minutes), Narrator: Dr. Richard Engler, US EPA.