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Sweet Deal: Dow and Partner Cook up Sugar-to-Acrylic Plan

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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Now here’s a sweet deal: A partnership agreement that could eventually lead to production of key ingredients in paint and other building materials from sugar.

That’s the concept cooking in the R&D and marketing centers of The Dow Chemical Company and OPX Biotechnologies Inc., which announced a collaboration aimed at developing an industrial-scale process for the production of bio-based acrylic acid from renewable feedstocks.

The companies have signed a joint development agreement “to prove the technical and economic viability of an industrial-scale process to produce acrylic acid using a fermentable sugar (such as corn and/or cane sugar) feedstock with equal performance qualities as petroleum-based acrylic acid.”

 Dow and OPXBIO

 Rufino Uribe

Dow and OPXBIO will seek to develop an industrial process to produce acrylic acid from sugar. Shown here is sugar cane cut during harvest.

The result could be “a direct replacement option for the market,” the partners said, adding, “If collaborative research is successful, the companies will discuss commercialization opportunities that could bring bio-based acrylic acid to market in three to five years.”

Acrylic acid is the building-block chemical for acrylic resins—a major raw material in many architectural and industrial maintenance coatings and adhesives.

In coatings, resins function as a film-forming “binder” that imparts key performance and appearance properties such as UV and moisture resistance, durability, gloss, color retention, and scrub resistance.

Dow, a major global producer of acrylic acid and esters, said it will provide its expertise in industrial chemistry, process optimization and product development in the collaborative program. OPXBIO, a company that develops biotechnology processes to convert renewable raw materials into biochemicals and fuels, will contribute expertise in strain development and bioprocessing utilizing its EDGE™ (Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering) technology.

OBXBIO says the technology platform enables it to engineer high-performing microbes and bioprocesses more effectively and efficiently compared to conventional genetic engineering methods.

OPXBIO, based in Boulder, Colo., manufactures renewable bio-based chemicals and fuels. The company says it developed and piloted the microbe and bioprocess that will produce its first renewable chemical product—BioAcrylic—at a lower cost than petro-acrylic, with a 75% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The companies said a lifecycle analysis conducted by Symbiotic Engineering, a greenhouse-gas and sustainability consultant, concluded that OPXBIO’s production process can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 70% when compared to traditional petroleum-based acrylic-acid production.

The company’s second product is diesel fuel bio-processed from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

Basic Raw Material for Acrylic Resins

Acrylic acid is the feedstock raw material for the production of acrylic monomers, which form the basis for acrylic resins in paint, coatings, polymer cements, and other building materials. Acrylic resins also serve as adhesive materials in various products.

Tim Donnelly, director, strategy and ventures, for Dow Performance Monomers, said the technology holds the potential to contribute to the company’s massive polymer supply chain for coatings and other materials.

“We use a lot of monomers with Dow, including the Dow Coating Materials business that makes binders in paints and additives for coatings,” Donnelly said. “So the goal—anywhere acrylic acid is being used in that chain, if the technology is successful and meets economic targets—is to make products that meet current industry standards” for quality and performance, he said.

Dow Chemical ranks as one of the “top three” producers of acrylic chemistry worldwide, Donnelly said. Its actual rank within that top three varies, depending on the source of the rankings, he said.

Alternative to Petrochemicals

Dow said the program will seek to develop a “commercially robust” process using sugar to produce 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3HP), a building block for acrylic acid. The sugar can be derived either from corn syrup or cane. The 3HP is then converted to acrylic acid.

Acrylic acid, in turn, is a building block for a range of materials. Acrylic acid is converted to glacial acrylic acid or an acrylic ester such as butyl acrylate, a common ingredient in coatings raw materials.

Currently, propylene—a high-volume petrochemical—functions as the starting point for most commercially available acrylic acid, Donnelly said.

A Massive Market

Dow said the global petroleum-based acrylic-acid market is estimated at $8 billion and is growing 3 to 4% per year.

“Dow is interested in bio-based products that are economically competitive to petrochemical-based products with equal or advantaged performance qualities,” said Pat Gottschalk, business director and vice president, Dow Performance Monomers. “Through the use of innovative technologies and sustainable raw materials, this project may enable Dow to diversify its product offerings for customers.”

“Together with Dow, we aim to deliver bio-based acrylic acid to the market that is cost-competitive and more sustainable,” said Charles R. (Chas) Eggert, OPXBIO president and CEO.

“Building on our own successful pilot-scale development and leveraging Dow’s chemical processing and purification expertise will enable us to accelerate demonstration-scale activities and validate the performance of a bio-based acrylic acid in multiple applications,” Eggert said.

More information on OPXBIO: www.opxbio.com.


Tagged categories: Dow Chemical Company; Formulating; Green building; Resins; Sustainability

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/18/2011, 9:13 AM)

Ethanol production is already competing for corn and thereby driving up food prices - too bad this acrylic project isn't starting with a lower-value feedstock, such as cellulose.

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