Technology partnership bolsters BioAmber

Tyler Kula, The Sarnia Observer- April 7, 2015

BioAmber has inked a deal with a British-based chemical process technology company, something officials say makes it quicker, cheaper, and less risky to build BioAmber’s next chemical production plant — one that could still end up in Sarnia.

BioAmber, currently completing construction and commissioning at its first 30,000-tonne-capacity bio-succinic acid plant in Sarnia, announced this week a licence with Johnson Matthey Davy (JM Davy) Technologies to use their catalyst technology to produce next-step building-block chemicals butanediol (BDO) and tetrahydrofuran (THF) at BioAmber’s next, estimated-$500-million, plant.

A location for that plant at one of three short-listed sites in North America is expected to be announced later this year and Sarnia is in the running, said BioAmber VP Mike Hartmann.

If all goes smoothly, the plant, with the capacity to produce 30,000 tonnes of THF, and 70,000 tonnes of BDO, as well as bio-succinic acid, could be operating by 2018, he said.

All the chemicals that plant would produce are used in the making of plastics for cars and electronics, as well as biodegradable plastics and spandex, but BioAmber’s process relies on corn sugar instead of the traditional petroleum-based feedstock, a company statement said.

That means a greener alternative, while still being cost-effective and providing the same end-product, Hartmann said.

The JM Davy partnership means BioAmber doesn’t need to spend millions and months piloting its BDO and THF-making processes, since JM Davy’s “best-in-class” catalyst technology is already used at plants around the world, he said.

“This is really a win-win for us.”

That partnership also means JM Davy can offer BioAmber-made bio-succinic acid to its customers instead of the petrochemical maleic anhydride, currently used at other plants where its catalyst technology is employed, a company statement said. The petrochemical is derived from benzene or n-butane.

As part of the deal, which includes up-front and royalty costs, Hartmann said BioAmber also has licence to use JM Davy technology at another two plants in the future.

Details for a third plant that would produce bio-succinic acid haven’t been announced publicly yet, but three-quarters of that plant’s anticipated production has already been locked up in a contract, Hartmann said.

“Giving any more detail at this time around that is a little premature, but it does tell you the demand from the market,” he said.

The JM Davy licence has no impact on BioAmber’s $125-million (US) plant nearing completion in Sarnia, he said.

Commercial operation there is expected to begin this fall.

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