Italy Became World Champion with Novamont Bio-BDO

Bio-BDO is the success story of Novamont. What is Bio-BDO? What is the difference between bio-BDO and BDO? Production, prices and regulation, applications & markets.

What is Bio-BDO?

BDO (Butanediol) is a widely used industrial chemical. Bio-BDO (Bio-butanediol) is a drop-in of BDO. A drop-in means that it has the same molecular structure as the fossil-based BDO but “Bio” means that the molecule was made from renewable resources. Bio-BDO is a chemical used as solvent and building block in (bio)plastics, elastic fibres and polyurethanes. Bio-BDO is 100% bio-based and biodegradable.

The following are all synonyms: bio-BDO, bio-Butanediol, bio-1.4-butanediol, the same counts for BDO, Butnediol and 1.4-butanediol.

Invention and Production of Bio-BDO

Italian bioplastics company Novamont invented bio-BDO. The R&D benefited from EU funds.

The Novamont Bio-BDO production plant was build with 100% private investments. Industrial production started in July 2016. The plant has an annual production capacity of 30.000 tons. The bio-BDO plant falls under a subsidiary called Mater-Biotech. Mater-Biotech is owned for 100% by Novamont. Novamont is owned by Banca Intesa, Investitori Associati and others.

Bio-BDO is produced from sugars derived from the hydrolysis of starch, the so-called glucose syrup. Bio-BDO is produced through a single-step fermentation by a metabolically engineered strain of E.coli type bacteria developed by Genomatica (US).

Novamont has been conducting research to obtain sugars from lignocellulosis biomass. This technology has been proven to work at pilot stage.

bio-bdo novamont

Prices & Regulatory Requirements

Production of bio-BDO costs a little bit less than twice the price of fossil-BDO. Bio-BDO price competitiveness is a weak point in comparison to fossil-BDO. How lower the oil prices, the less competitive bio-BDO becomes. Improvements in the production process and increased production capacity will reduce production costs of bio-BDO.

The only structural way to replace BDO by bio-BDO is through regulation that

  • impose a certain level of bio-based content in the plastics (shopping bags for instance);
  • makes bio-BDO cheaper;
  • makes BDO more expensive.

Environmental Impact

According to Novamont’s LCA, bio-BDO has a 60% reduced greenhouse gas across its life-cycle when compared to fossil-BDO.

Applications & Market

Bio-BDO is a building block. mostly used in plastics but will be used more and more in textiles, automotive and consumer goods in the future. The most popular plastic applications are packaging, shopping bags, tableware and could be used in moulded industrial and consumer goods.

Bio-BDO is a drop-in of BDO and could replace BDO almost completely. Total global market of BDO was 2 million tons in 2016.

Global fossil & bio BDO market

  • 37 % is used for the production of PTMEG (Polytetramethylene Ether Glycol). PTMEG is mostly used to produce spandex (polyurethane) fibers, (lycra). Top three users are China (more than 50%), North America and EU.
  • 23% is used for the production of PBT Polybutylene terephthalate) mostly used in automotive and cell phones.
  • 11% is used in the production of PU / TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane)
  • 9 % is used for the production of NMP (N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone) mostly used in automotive, power tools and sporting goods.
  • 8% is used for the production of GBL (gamma-Butyrolactone) mostly used for PVP polymers and solvents
  • 8% is used in the production of THF (Tetrahydrofuran)
  • 3 % are used for bioplastics
  • 1% for other purposes

CLOSING REMARKS

  • Novamont is the Italian crown Juwel. Italy is a leader in Bio-tech and Bio-Chem thanks to Novamont. Despite what happened in Italy in the last 20 years … bunga bunga …Novamont was able to thrive and become an industry leader.
  • Biotech companies need support of their governments: pharma biotech companies usually receive grants and tax reduction for their R&D operations and their drugs are reimbursed by the social security. Why should it be different for biochemicals companies? Hopefully, the current Italian government will understand this.

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