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Roundtable Discussion Highlights Innovation, Commercial Reality for Renewable Chemical Products

May 22, 2013
Last week BIO brought together representatives from five renewable chemical companies that will be speaking at BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology next month in Montreal for a roundtable discussion highlighting developments in the renewable chemical space. Bioformix, Itaconix, Newlight Technologies, Solegear and CO2 Solutions are all in the early stages of commercializing innovative renewable chemical products making it a very exciting time for the industry.

“Renewable chemicals can already compete on cost with petroleum chemicals, with lower production volumes required for commercial scale,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section. “The global chemicals market represents $3.5 trillion dollars, so companies that can capture a percentage of this market will create economic growth and hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities.”

The companies representing Canada and the United States showed both countries are well positioned to compete with abundant renewable resources and developed chemicals markets. Consumers in North America and around the world are looking for safer and less polluting alternatives to petroleum products driving the market potential for renewable chemicals.

Bioformix develops sustainable polymer platforms that, for example, enable high-speed curing for industrial glues and automotive paint. Adam Malofsky, president and CEO of Bioformix, shared that his company is about eliminating energy for manufacturing. In collaboration with the Departement of Energy and Lifecycle Associates, they estimate Bioformix could eliminate up to five quadrillion BTUs of energy consumption in the United States. That’s five percent of U.S. energy consumption.

“We’re doing this with high-performance polymer platforms that happen to be clean and green, happen to be renewable and sustainable, happen to be by design biologically benign,” Adam said. “And so, Bioformix is charged with and desires to convince the world that green doesn’t have to be an inferior product or a sacrifice in performance. Green can outperform what’s out there. Clean can outperform what’s out there.”

Itaconix produces 100% biobased polyitaconic acid, a dispersant that can be used in applications such as detergents. Their technology is currently in about 20 different detergent and cleaner products – consumer products that are on store shelves in the United States and Europe in leading commercial brands.

“The value that we bring to those first and foremost is that we improve the performance and reduce the cost of these important consumer products,” said John Shaw, CEO of Itaconix.

Both Adam and John will be speaking on the Renewable Specialty Chemical Products breakout session at BIO’s World Congress on Monday, June 17.

Newlight Technologies is commercializing technology to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide to plastic. Mark Herrema, co-founder and CEO of Newlight, described the company’s technology as basically pulling carbon out of the airstreams and turning it into plastics that have the same performance as plastics made from oil, are actually less expensive and reduce the amount of carbon in the air.

“It doesn’t matter how you feel about global warming, we can all agree that we’d rather use carbon from the air than carbon from oil, especially if we’re going to make products that are less expensive,” said Mark. Mark will be discussing Direct Conversion of Methane to Higher Value Products Using Biological Systems at BIO’s World Congress on Tuesday, June 18.

Solegear has developed a non-toxic, bio-based and compostable bioplastic product. They are leveraging natural processes to create green building blocks and green plastics, which maximizes the use of bio-based materials and maximizes product safety by minimizing any plastic toxicity issues that may exist in products today.

“Specifically, Solegear is targeting consumer product applications where those plastics come into contact directly with the consumers,” said Toby Reid, president and CEO of Solegear. “We focus on those higher-performing plastics, so materials that require extra durability, extra heat resistance, extra bendability or whatever the case may be for more specialized engineered application.”

Toby highlighted the opportunity in renewable plastics saying plastics represent half a trillion pounds every year – equivalent to the combined weight of every person on the planet.

CO2 Solutions was founded with the mission of using biotechnology to help industry efficiently reduce their carbon emissions to help solve the global challenge of climate change. Their patented technology allows for the efficient capture of CO2 from large stationary emissions sources such as coal-fired power plants and aluminum refineries, while leveraging existing solvent-based gas scrubbing approaches already known to industry.

“CO2 Solutions is truly at the forefront of efforts to mitigate the impact of fossil fuels,” said Jonathan Carley, vice president of business development for CO2 Solutions. “We’ve shown that biotechnology can create a practical solution to help solve one of the world’s most pressing issues while also helping secure the competiveness of industries on which so many depend for their economic livelihood.”

CO2 Solutions will be participating in the Clean Tech Investor Sessions at BIO’s World Congress on Monday, June 17.

These five companies demonstrate that while the overall renewable chemical industry is still in the early stages of development, a growing number of projects are reaching the commercial production stage, and this is really quite exciting.