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New Interview - Read about the latest technological developments in DSM's bio-based chemical portfolio

Date: 2014-02-18 14:59:46.0
Author: BioFPR

SAN DIEGO, California -- BioFPR's Managing Editor Sarah Watson spoke to Marcel Lubben, Vice President Bio-based Chemicals and Materials DSM at the Bio Pacific Rim summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy.
Could you give me a brief overview of one or two highlights of the yeast and enzyme technology developed by DSM? For example, the yeast-based route to succinic acid.

Our strength is our deep knowledge-base and the technology development at DSM. DSM has a broad base in fermentation, this means that our processes are very robust. This is evident for example, in Reverdia, our joint venture with Roquette, being the first to market with a commercial facility for the production of bio-based succinic acid. Some of the other players in the bio-succinic acid market find it difficult to scale up and start producing and we have been successfully operating a 10,000 tonnes/year capacity plant in Cassano, Spinola in Italy. The other highlight is that our strain is able to function at a low pH. The advantage of this is that you don’t need to make the solution acidic afterwards in order to get the product out of the water. It already is at a low pH and it therefore circumvents all sorts of issues that you might see in other routes to succinic acid that need acidification after the fermentation, which creates co-products (salts) which have to be separated from the primary product at the end of the process. This has a negative impact on the LCA.

Biofpr recently published a Life Cycle Analysis on succinic acid production from carbohydrates.1 What is the significance of this study from your perspective?

It is significant. For example, succinic acid is often compared with adipic acid. It can replace adipic acid in some applications such as polyurethane and other downstream products with a much lower environmental footprint and performs better in a life cycle analysis. That could mean that in some (but not all) applications it can be accelerated as a potential replacement to adipic acid, as it performs so much better in a life cycle analysis, and people who are looking for a bio-based alternative might embrace that.

Aim of this publication is to present a transparent and credible view on the LCA of our Biosuccinium(TM) versus alternatives, including the competing petro-based and bio-based succinic acid (produced via different/bacteria-based routes).The study shows a lot of detail on how the LCA is calculated allowing readers to understand and use the information to make relevant comparisons. We are pleased to report of course that Reverdia’s yeast-based route is concluded to have the best LCA outcome.

What is the potential of succinic acid as a platform chemical? Tell me about some of the downstream products that can be produced.

There are a lot of different applications for succinic acid, the most important are:
1. It can be used as a building block for PBS (polybutylene succinate), which is a biodegradable polymer with very exciting applications
2. It is also a building block for polyurethanes
3. It goes into plasticisers to replace, for example, phthalate-plasticisers
4. It is used in pigments.

Can you give me a brief insight into the development processes at DSM?

We have moved from historically doing everything in-house, maybe alone, to a situation where we routinely use partners. This is especially relevant in a bio-based economy where you often have to set up entirely new value chains and you find yourself having to work on biomass, having to work on technology, having to work on applications and you might not always have that expertise in-house yourself. For example in the area of biomass, which has not historically been DSM’s strength, we work with partners. Conversion technology is something that is a strength for DSM along with good market knowledge. However that expertise depends a little bit on the market, for example, in the polyamide market we are very much at home, but in some other markets we also have to learn.

You touched upon some of your key strategic relationships, could you expand on that? For example your joint venture with Roquette.

Reverdia is a very good example of a joint venture. The culture of the partnering companies is very similar, but also the objective that we are both trying to achieve is very comparable. You have to really make sure that your agendas are completely aligned, as with even a slight difference in agenda or objective things can become intrinsically complicated. When the odds go up and the money goes up then without this there is a source of tension, so alignment is very important and I think that it works well. You also have to view the joint venture as a shared child. It is something that you are both responsible for and you have to make it successful. That means that you care about it but you also give it room to grow and to become an adult. I view it very much like raising a child.

Can you envisage a future when a bio-based economy replaces the fossil-fuel based economy?

Yes. I think that what is really important in that respect is the price of oil, which is expected to go up in the longer term. Also developments in shale gas, for example. With the recent trend of fracking for shale gas rather than using naphtha as a primary feedstock anything which is C4 or higher becomes much scarcer. This opens up new opportunities for the bio-based economy because traditional feedstocks will become scarcer and more expensive. So the economic comparison for bio-based products will as a result become much more favourable. What we have also seen is that prices are very cyclical. For example, there is the recent case of adipic acid, which is converted from benzene. There was a significant over supply in adipic acid caused by additional capacity in China at the same time as benzene prices were increasing, and as a result the adipic acid producers were really squeezed. By being bio-based and being fully backwardly integrated into sugar markets, or even further into biomass, energy crops and wood, you can control cost fluctuations much better.

What do you see as the next big milestone? What are your long-term goals?

We have a whole pipeline of initiatives. The two most advanced are Reverdia, the collaboration with Roquette, and the POET-DSM joint venture. Following that we have a whole pipeline, for example a biodiesel project with BP. It is really important for us to first deliver on our current two most advanced ventures: Reverdia and POET-DSM, but at the same time to not neglect the pipeline.


1. Cok, B., Tsiropoulos, I., Roes, A. L. and Patel, M. K. (2013), Succinic acid production derived from carbohydrates: An energy and greenhouse gas assessment of a platform chemical toward a bio-based economy. Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref.. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1427

For further information about DSM please visit their website here.

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