By: Tina Casey
Greenhouse gas-sucking rubber ducks could be in the future. Myriant Technologies LLC has just won U.S. Department of Energy funding of up to $50 million to construct a new plant that will produce Succinic Acid from sorghum, using a biobased process that is more energy efficient than conventional methods, and also absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces.
Until now, petroleum has been the feedstock of choice to manufacture Succinic Acid. If commercially successful, a more sustainable biobased process like Myriant’s could have a significant impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, because Succinic Acid is used in a fantastic variety of materials from non-toxic diesel fuel additives, pharmaceuticals and food to plastic car parts, computer casings, and shoe soles.
Biobased Succinic Acid in a Nutshell
The U.S. DOE assigned funding to the Succinic Acid plant because the chemical is among the top-selling twelve chemicals or fuels that could be produced from biomass rather than petroleum. Succinic Acid can also be extracted from amber, and is also known as amber acid. On a molecular level it plays a part in the Krebs cycle, in which aerobic organisms (such as ourselves) convert carbs and other natural fuels into usable energy.
More Biobased Chemicals on the Horizon
Massachusetts-based Myriant spent four years developing its Succinic Acid process before going into commercial scale production. The new sorghum feedstock plant will be built at the Port of Lake Providence, Louisiana. With funding from the State of Florida, this summer the company also teamed up with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Buckeye Technologies Inc. to build a biochemicals and biofuels production facility in Perry, Florida. It will use sorghum along with wood and sugar cane bagasse, the pulpy byproduct of sugar production.
The Slow Fade of Petroleum Feedstocks
Myriant is by no means the only commercial-scale venture to shut the door on petroleum feedstocks. Another biobased succinic acid plant is already in the works in Pomacle, France. Its renewable feedstocks include wheat, corn, sugar cane, rice, and glycerin (glycerin is an important byproduct of biofuel production). In addition to other exotic bioplastic feedstocks like algae and even wastewater, natural fibers like coconut husks are also making inroads, and the sleeping giant of markets - the U.S. military - is waking up to the superior logistics of using biobased, compostable plastic materials in food packaging.
Image: Rubber duck by frielp on flickr.com.