PHA R&D and Innovations

Potato Waste Based PHA Plant and Levulinic Acid From Biomass

Bio-On and Pizzoli, plan to build a potato waste-based PHA plant. Bio-On and Eridania Sadam team-up to develop levulinic acid from biomass.

Italian renewable chemicals developer, Bio-On S.p.A. together with Pizzoli S.p.A., Italy’s largest potato processor  will team-up to build the nation’s first Polyhydroxylalkanoate (PHA) production plant using waste product from the potato agro-industrial process.

The facility is expected to produce 2,000 ton/year of PHAs with a plan to double capacity in the future. Following an initial feasibility study phase to optimize the integration with existing structures and assess the economics, the project is set to be completed within approximately two years for a start-up in  production during 2017.

Bio-On has developed an exclusive process for the production of PHAs from agricultural waste, and already operates its own 10,000 tons/year PHA production facility constructed by Techint in Bologna. This first plant uses waste materials from beet and cane sugar production from the cooperative Coprob SCA, the number one sugar producer in Italy. The company’s PHA polymer is marketed under the brand Minerv™PHA.

Bio-On and Coprob announced the expansion of their historical (2008) partnership. The new multi-year investment program for a total amount of 960,000€, will allow to give a wider scope of applications to sugar beet residues as feedstock.

Bio-on also announced its collaboration with Eridania Sadam S.p.A on developing and optimizing production of levulinic acid from sugar by-products .

Eridania Sadam is an Italian agro-industrial group operating in the production, packaging and marketing of sugar, sweeteners, and other foodstuffs. Eridania Sadam is investing EUR 1.8 million into the project.

The two companies say their technologies will lower costs, will meet European environmental standards and turn a niche chemical into an attractive new building block for products used in crop protection, coatings, solvents, and bioplastics.

And they are not alone in the race in Italy, GFBiochemicals, based in Milan also announced that it will begin commercial production of levulinic acid from a starch feedstock this summer in Caserta, Italy. Capacity will start at 2,000 metric tons per year and scale up to 8,000 metric tons by 2017.

It aims to switch to cellulose-based feedstock in 2016. GFB’s executives, veterans of big companies such as Solvay and Air Products, say they have the expertise to sell the chemical for new applications where it can replace petroleum-derived inputs at lower cost.

As now synthesized from maleic anhydride, levulinic acid is rather expensive to produce, limiting its use to low-volume applications such as fragrances and food additives.

“For the biobased version to take off, companies will have to produce it at low cost and work with customers to identify new uses”, says Adrian Higson, lead consultant on biobased products at the U.K.’s National Non-Food Crops Centre.

Fans of levulinic acid would like to see it follow in the footsteps of succinic acid, another biobased intermediate that is being commercialized by BioAmber, Myriant, Reverdia (JV DSM and Roquette)  and Succinity (JV Corbion-Purac and BASF).

Both substances were on a list of the 12 most promising chemicals from biomass put out a decade ago by the U.S. Department of Energy. But whereas succinic acid is made from sugars and requires fermentation, levulinic acid can be derived directly from biomass using an acid-catalyzed hydrolysis process.

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