Another major event of the month of December 2013 is the announced partnership between LANZATECH from New Zealand and EVONIK from Germany to develop specialty plastics from waste-derived synthesis gas. The companies have signed a three-year research cooperation deal to combine Evonik’s existing biotechnology platforms with LanzaTech’s synthetic biology and gas fermentation expertise to develop the production of bio-processed precursors for specialty plastics made of waste derived synthesis gas.
In this process route, microorganisms placed in fermenters are used to turn synthesis gas into chemical products. Synthesis gases comprise either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide and hydrogen and can come from a variety of gasified biomass waste streams including forestry and agricultural residues and gasified municipal solid waste. Evonik use their enzymes to create a cell factory that generates specialty chemicals from such syngas.
Evonik has been investing into biotechnology research for thirty years mostly at its Halle-Kunsebeck site in Germany. In its Health & Nutrition business unit alone, the company expects sales of EUR 1 billion over the medium term for products made using biotechnology.
In a recent news, Evonik said it has successfully converted syngas into pure 2-hydroxyisobutyric acid (2-HIBA) under industrial conditions . 2-HIBA is a precursor used in the manufacture of PLEXIGLAS. 2-HIBA is currently produced via chemical synthesis and is converted to methyl methacrylate (MMA). Polymethyl methacrylate (PLEXIGLAS) is used for creating transparent sheets and molded profiles like roofs, screens and windows for a variety of applications in the automotive, aircraft and electronic consumer goods industries. Evonik is one of the largest producers of MMA, and the chemical can also be used in paints, varnishes, anti-rust coatings, in contact lenses and dental implants.
“Industrial biotechnology is one of the core competences of Evonik. It enables new approaches to specialty chemicals and processes,” explains Prof. Stefan Buchholz, the head of Creavis. Creavis, Evonik’s strategic innovation arm, is committed to developing alternative bio-based pathways for the production of such specialty chemicals, to not only reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their manufacture. “The use of renewables and specific waste streams is one of the main focuses of our research and development work, and LanzaTech offers an additional interesting approach,” says Buchholz.
“We are really happy to be working with Evonik,”
said LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren, ” which has a tremendous biotech capability – so makes us feel good that they feel we are the experts in this sector plus they are not just trying to do all this work by themselves. We are also happy to be extending our chemicals tool box into precursors to plastics.
LanzaTech, also announced its partnership with Concord Blue USA for the use of Concord Blue’s closed-loop, commercially proven, non-incineration process that recycles nearly any form of waste including landfill waste and sewage sludge into energy.
Thereby, LanzaTech will have access to the upstream conversion of waste biomass into syngas using the Concord Blue technology. The produced syngas will be converted into chemical building blocks by LanzaTech’s gas fermentation process. Downstream materials/chemicals like specialty plastics will eventually be produced from the syngas-based chemical feedstock thanks to LanzaTech’s partnership with Evonik .
A new value chain “from waste to bioplastics” is being assembled along these global collaborative partnerships. And this is per se a characteristic of what happens around plant based chemistry and biopolymers and bioplastics. Successful value chain creation is the fruit of collaborative partnerships between absolute experts in their field combining their skills, Intellectual Property and industrial assets base: in the case of bioplastics from biotechnology to chemistry to polymerization and plastic resin manufacturing. This has been proven to be the quickest and more cost efficient route from idea to market, fueling the innovation pipeline of the 21st century non fossil carbon chemistry.