2011 Greener Synthetic Pathways Award

Genomatica

 

Production of Basic Chemicals from Renewable Feedstocks at Lower Cost

 

Innovation and Benefits:1,4-Butanediol (BDO) is a high-volume chemical building block used to make many common polymers, such as spandex. Using sophisticated genetic engineering, Genomatica has developed a microbe that makes BDO by fermenting sugars. When produced at commercial scale, Genomatica's Bio-BDO will be less expensive, require about 60 percent less energy, and produce 70 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than BDO made from natural gas. Genomatica is partnering with major companies to bring Bio-BDO to the market.

Summary of Technology: Most high-volume commodity chemicals, including monomers, are made from natural gas or petroleum. Genomatica is developing and commercializing sustainable basic and intermediate chemicals made from renewable feedstocks including readily available sugars, biomass, and syngas. The company aims to transform the chemical industry through the cost-advantaged, smaller-footprint production of biobased chemicals as direct replacements for major industrial chemicals that are currently petroleum-based in a trillion-dollar global market. By greening basic and intermediate chemicals at the source, Genomatica's technology enables others to make thousands of downstream products more sustainably without changing their manufacturing processes. By producing the building-block chemicals directly, Genomatica also reduces unwanted byproducts.

The first target molecule for Genomatica is 1,4-butanediol (BDO). BDO is used to make spandex, automotive plastics, running shoes, and many other products; it has an approximately 2.8 billion pound, $3 billion worldwide market. Genomatica has been producing BDO at pilot scale in 3,000 liter fermentations since the first half of 2010, and is moving to production at demonstration scale in 2011. Multiple large chemical companies have successfully tested Genomatica's Bio-BDO as a feedstock for polymers. The performance of Bio-BDO has met the standards set for petroleum-based BDO. Initial lifecycle analyses show that Genomatica's Bio-BDO will require about 60 percent less energy than acetylene-based BDO. Also, the biobased BDO pathway consumes carbon dioxide (CO2), resulting in a reduction of 70 percent in CO2 emissions. Fermentation requires no organic solvent, and the water used is recycled. Furthermore, the Bio-BDO fermentation process operates near ambient pressure and temperature, thus providing a safer working environment. These advantages lead to reduced costs: production facilities should cost significantly less, and production expenses for Bio-BDO should be 15–30 percent less than petroleum-based BDO. Genomatica expects Bio-BDO to be competitive at oil prices of $45 per barrel or at natural gas prices of $3.50 per million Btu.

Genomatica's unique, integrated bioprocess engineering and extensive intellectual property allow it to develop organisms and processes rapidly for many other basic chemicals. Because the chemical industry uses approximately 8 percent of the world's fossil fuels, Genomatica's technology has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by hundreds of millions of tons annually.

Genomatica has entered into partnerships with several major companies including Tate & Lyle, M & G (a major European chemicals producer), Waste Management, and Mitsubishi Chemical to implement their technology at a commercial scale. Genomatica expects to begin commercial production of Bio-BDO in 2012. They plan to roll out plants in the United States, Europe, and Asia over time.


Podcast on the technology:

2011 Greener Synthetic Pathways Award podcast (MP3,1 MB, 1:03 minutes), Narrator: Dr. Richard Engler, US EPA.

Read the text of this podcast.


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