Sustainable Succinic Acid
Improving the Environmental Footprint
Bio-Based Building Blocks - The need to reduce dependency on fossil resources, a growing world population and an increased concern for the environment are driving companies to supplement oil-based chemicals with plant-based, sustainable, high-quality chemical building blocks.
Reverdia, the joint venture between Royal DSM and Roquette Frères, produces Biosuccinium sustainable succinic acid, with proprietary green technology. It enables customers to produce bio-based, high-quality materials while at the same time substantially improving their environmental footprint.
In December 2012, Reverdia started operations of the world's first large-scale commercial plant for the production of succinic acid from renewable resources. The facility, in Cassano Spinola, Italy, has an annual capacity of about 10,000 tons (fig. 1) and is a step in the company's strategy to even larger production facilities in the near future. The location of a second large-scale plant is open, and global opportunities are being evaluated.
Biosuccinium succinic acid provides impetus for an entire range of more renewable, sustainable bio-based products. While conventional markets for succinic acid include pharmaceuticals, food, coatings and pigments, Reverdia sees that the production of a high-quality, bio-based succinic acid like Biosuccinium helps to drive the emergence of new applications (fig. 2).
An upcoming market is polybutylene succinate (PBS), a biodegradable polymer, for which the market is expected to grow rapidly, partly driven by global policymaking on single-use consumer products.
When PBS is based on Biosuccinium, it can have a renewable content as high as 50% and even 100% if bio-based 1,4 butanediol (BDO) also is used. PBS also shows interesting physical properties, like high elongation/flexibility, good temperature resistance and easy processing. It can be applied in a pure form, but it also represents an ideal blend partner in compounds. Copolymerization with different types and content of co-monomers can obtain a range of properties, which provides many opportunities for the packaging industry and the plastics industry in general.
Other applications include those where adipic acid is the current conventional chemical, a large market with many opportunities such as (nonphthalate) plasticizers, coating and composite resins, and polyester polyols for polyurethanes. Biosuccinium improves the bio-based content of these products as well as the carbon and environmental footprint (fig. 3). Biosuccinium has now been produced for several years and has been tested and validated in several of these applications by numerous customers.
Best-in-Class Carbon Footprint and Economics
Reverdia developed and commercialized a unique, proprietary, low pH yeast technology to convert sugars into succinic acid. The novel process is simple, stable, very energy-efficient, and generates less waste and impurities than the bacteria-based technologies that are being used in alternative routes for bio-based succinic acid (figure 4). Reverdia uses this yeast technology to produce Biosuccinium at best-in-class carbon footprint and economics. The best-in-class carbon footprint is also supported by the Copernicus Institute at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. It conducted a Life Cycle Assessment study, which compared various production methods in detail, assuming all other things are equal (especially the energy mix and feedstock usage). The study found that the yeast-based fermentation process at low pH, with direct crystallization, as used by Reverdia to produce Biosuccinium, has significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than other fermentation routes or petrochemical routes (fig. 3). The results of this LCA study are published as an early view in Wiley Online Library (August 2013).
Reliable Company, Reliable Product Quality
Reverdia combines DSM's expertise in materials sciences, life sciences and biotechnology with Roquette's know-how in plant-based raw-material processing. These two large international companies have been developing, producing and supplying bio-based products globally for decades.
Reverdia benefits not only from the capital and expertise of both mother companies but also from their production facilities. Biosuccinium formerly was produced in a demonstration plant on the Lestrem site of Roquette in France, and the production facility in Cassano is again backward integrated with a Roquette biorefinery for on-site production of the starch feedstock. The Cassano site benefits from the experience gained in the demonstration plant where Biosuccinium was produced for more than two years. Reverdia's first large-scale commercial plant is using the same low pH yeast technology as was used in Lestrem and can therefore also deliver on product quality promises.