Super-cali-thali-terpa-butyl-peta What? The Hockey-Stickin’, Flash-Mobbin’ Growth in Biobased Intermediates
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) The new trend in biofuels is not a biofuel at all – it’s an (usually unpronounceable) intermediate that can be refined into an array of fuels, chemicals, flavors, fragrances, and construction or packaging materials.
… Amyris, KiOR, Renmatix, Virdia, Blue Sugars, Proterro, Sucre Source, Sweetwater Energy, Genomatica – hot companies all, what do they have in common? Instead of making a finished end-product, they make an intermediate which is then upgraded to a finished product, typically by partners.
The range of intermediates is broad.
The hottest category is renewable sugars, which has attracted companies like Virdia, Blue Sugars, Proterro, Renmatix and Sweetwater Energy. Their challenge? Produce low-cost, high-performance renewable sugars that can be sold to synthetic biology companies like LS9, Virent, or Gevo, who convert sugars into an array of useful end products ranging from surfactant alcohols, base chemicals like isobutanol, or diesel, jet or alcohol fuels.
Over at Amyris, they are producing biofene – essentially a known molecule that is too expensive to produce using conventional methods, and which they are marketing to partners as an excellent intermediate that can be used in the production of, for example, lubricants.
Over at KiOR, they are producing biocrude, using a pyrolysis process and Southern yellow pine as a feedstock. Their product, in turn, is sold to conventional oil refineries, that can upgrade that product, using fully conventional refinery processes, into a finished drop-in fuel.
At Genomatica, right now they are focused on a biobased BDO, or 1,4 butanediol, used as an intermediate in a host of products ranging from spandex fibers to solvents and printing inks.
… Intermediates have become a fashionable strategy for a couple of reasons.
One, the aforementioned complexity of renewable chemistry makes for a lot of intermediate demand in the everyday world of Big Chemicals.
Two, as companies like LS9 and Virent head for scale, they can use renewable sugar intermediates in place of, say, expensive corn syrup.
Three, feedstock companies can participate in the biobased economy without having to pick winners among the host of competing molecules. They don’t need to choose between ethanol, triglycerides, isobutanol, n-butanol, yada, yada, yada. They can make a renewable sugar, and sell it to a host of customers that make end products. READ MORE