martes, 26 de mayo de 2015

Conversion of renewable resources into hydrocarbons through fermentation

Global Bioenergies was founded in 2008 jointly by Marc Delcourt, a biotechnologies entrepreneur, and Philippe Marlière, the program’s creator. The company developed in several stages.

Stage 1 – Proof of concept
To begin with, Global Bioenergies successfully set up a laboratory-scale prototype to provide proof of concept for its technology.

The Company also laid the foundations for its intellectual property, and it now holds exclusive rights to a constantly growing patent portfolio.

Stage 2 – Laboratory development
Secondly, after its IPO on the Alternext market, the Company refined its process on a laboratory scale. To this day, it continues to make performance improvements.

Stage 3 – Industrialization
Stage 3, which began when €23 million in funds were raised in mid-2013, was devoted to industrialization. An industrial pilot with an isobutene production capacity of 10 tonnes p.a. was set up at the Pomacle-Bazancourt agro-industrial site close to Reims.

BioMA+ Program: collaboration agreement with Arkema and the CNRS. Started up in October 2013 for three years. €5.2 million in government funding (Investissements d’Avenir program), with Global Bioenergies obtaining €4.0 million. The objective is to establish a new process for converting sugar into isobutene and then methacrylic acid, a key ingredient in acrylic paint.

The process at the pilot plant, which became fully operational in early 2015, has already been refined for an industrial environment, having been scaled up by a factor of ten from the laboratory. Initial batches of isobutene have now been shipped to Arkema in pressurized containers.

An industrial-scale demonstrator with an isobutene production capacity of 100 tonnes p.a. is currently being built at the Leuna refinery in Germany and is scheduled for start-up in 2016.

It has been financed by a €5.7 million subsidy from the German government and a €4.4 million loan from a consortium of French banks. This demonstrator represents the final stage in industrialization of the isobutene process.

Stage four – Commercialization

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The fourth stage – launching the technology in the marketplace – is only just beginning. The plan to set up the first full-scale plant in France is already starting to come together. Global Bioenergies and Cristal Union, France’s number two sugar manufacturer, formed a 50/50 joint venture in May 2015.

IBN-One has obtained a license from Global Bioenergies to use the isobutene process for production of up to 50,000 tonnes p.a. IBN-One gradually aims to raise the funds it needs for engineering work and construction of the facility. The chemicals and fuel sectors, as well as public-sector authorities, will also play a role in helping IBN-One to establish itself.

In Europe and the United States, the tax incentives for biofuels would enable it to achieve profitability at its first few plants at oil prices above $50 per barrel.

Secondly, several dozen plants each producing 50,000 to 200,000 tonnes of isobutene, butadiene or propylene would then be operated profitably in the plastics and rubbers market. An oil price of at least $85 per barrel would be needed for these ventures. These plants will drive Global Bioenergies’ growth, as it will receive milestone payments and royalties from each of them. The facilities to be located in rural areas will each create around 50 direct jobs, which cannot be relocated abroad.

In the longer term, once peak oil has been reached and oil prices are back above $150 per barrel, the isobutene process may become indispensable.

Isooctane, produced by condensing two isobutene compounds, is the gold standard and can be mixed with fossil-based gasoline, without any blending ratio restrictions or any alteration of properties.

Production of drop-in fuels has raised the prospect that existing infrastructure can be maintained once fossil oil runs out and dispenses with the need to set up additional storage, transportation and distribution infrastructure. A decentralized and greener new world will gradually take shape.

If it comes to fruition, Global Bioenergies’ isobutene process may be used in hundreds, if not thousands of plants that will radically transform the global industrial landscape.

Isobutene process
Global Bioenergies was founded in 2008 with a unique goal – to develop a process converting renewable resources (sugar, crops, agricultural and forestry waste) into isobutene, one of the main petroleum derivatives.
Schéma général du procédé

This new approach based on gas fermentation has two major advantages and will bring down operating costs:

The main drawback of conventional fermentation processes – the liquid product that builds up in the reactor is toxic to the micro-organism – has been overcome since the product evaporates spontaneously. The process can even be implemented almost continuously.
The purification stage is simpler – the isobutene merely has to be extracted from the air, CO2 and steam, rather than having to separate a liquid compound from a complex and varying cultured broth. Conventional methods, tried and tested over many decades, can achieve this.

Why use this process?
Because isobutene, one of the major building blocks of the petrochemicals industry, represents a market worth $25 billion and may one day address an additional market worth $400 billion. 15 million tonnes are produced every year and are turned into plastics, rubbers and fuels.

Arbre - produit de l'isobutène

Why is a scientifical challenge?
Because micro-organisms do not naturally produce isobutene. And it’s easy to understand why. A micro-organism converting its nutrients into isobutene, a volatile compound, would soon lose its carbon stores and be discarded by evolution. We had to “recode the software” in micro-organisms in our laboratory to make them produce the compound.

For the first time, an artificial metabolic pathway – a complex series of enzymatic reactions – was created from scratch. When implanted into a host micro-organism, it can convert sugars into isobutene in a several-stage process.

Bactérie modifiée pour produire de l'isobutène

This ground-breaking achievement has opened up the entirely new domain of synthetic biology.

Modified micro-organisms have been used in fermenters on an ever-increasing scale, initially in a laboratory and now in an industrial pilot. They are intended for use in plants in rural areas where they can produce fuel, plastics and rubbers using this alternative technology.
Fermenteur industriel

Image: Audi/Global Bioenergies The first batch of Audi “e-benzin” has been produced by cooperation partner Global Bioenergies.

Highly pure Audi “e-benzin” developed with Global Bioenergies
Next step calls for total elimination of biomass

Audi logs another success in the development of sustainable, synthetic fuels: Collaboration partner Global Bioenergies has produced the first batch of Audi “e-benzin”.

Audi “e-benzin” is synthetically produced without the use of petroleum. It is 100-percent iso-octane and therefore has an outstanding octane rating of RON 100. Because Audi “e-benzin” contains no sulfur or benzene, it burns very cleanly. It is thus a high-grade fuel that enables engines to use high compression ratios for enhanced efficiency. Audi will test the new fuel in the lab and in test engines. In the medium term, the company and Global Bioenergies aim to modify the process so that it requires no biomass, instead requiring just water, hydrogen, CO2 and sunlight.

Reiner Mangold, Head of Sustainable Product Development at AUDI AG, emphasized that Audi has taken a broad-based approach to the development of CO2-neutral, non-fossil fuels. “Global Bioenergies has demonstrated the viability of the Audi “e-benzin” production process. That is a big step in our Audi e-fuels strategy.” Audi is already producing larger quantities of “e-gas” (synthetic methane) on an industrial scale for its customers. Other research projects with various partners are dedicated to Audi “e-ethanol”, Audi “e-diesel” and Audi “e-benzin”.

Global Bioenergies S.A. operates a pilot plant for the production of isobutene, the starting material for Audi “e-benzin”, in the French town of Pomacle, near Reims. Isobutene is produced there from renewable raw materials rather than the usual petroleum. Another project partner is the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes (CPB) in Leuna, Saxony-Anhalt. Researchers there use hydrogen to transform the gaseous isobutene into liquid iso-octane. Global Bioenergies is building a demonstration plant at the Fraunhofer Center that will begin producing larger quantities in 2016.

26 MAY 2015

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