JULY 2009

Genomatica produces BDO from sugars

Genomatica, a sustainable chemicals company, announced that the company’s engineering team has achieved an important milestone toward the production of commercial grade 1,4-butanediol (BDO) from renewable feedstocks using Genomatica’s bioprocess. BDO is a substance used to manufacture certain plastics, fibers and polyurethanes.

The company has demonstrated that it can process BDO produced from sugar to greater than 99 percent purity using a proprietary recovery process. The achievement clears the way for development of a demonstration facility to begin operating next year.

The new process begins with producing BDO in fermentation broths generated by microbes engineered to directly produce BDO from sugars, and uses process designs and equipment compatible with large-scale chemical production. The purification achievement proves the feasibility of critical downstream process engineering elements of Genomatica’s manufacturing method for renewable BDO. Fully integrated, the process will offer a competitive advantage relative to producers that today generate BDO entirely from fossil fuels.

“The first 100-percent renewably sourced and purified BDO – it’s a powerful sight that symbolizes the transformation that is possible for our industry,” said Christophe Schilling, chief executive officer of Genomatica. “With a cost advantage over traditional manufacturing processes, our bio-manufacturing method for BDO will release chemical producers from the fluctuations of the hydrocarbon markets and lower their overall carbon footprint, while meeting the growing demand for sustainably manufactured products.”

When Genomatica began development of this bio-manufacturing process, the company set three key laboratory-scale development milestones to commercialize the process: first, to show that its organisms can directly produce BDO in a fermentation broth from sugars; next, to show that the yield and rate of BDO production and concentration can reach levels consistent with commercial goals; and finally, to show that BDO can be purified from the fermentation broth using a cost-effective and scalable process. Since the successful production of BDO was first announced last September, the company has been consistently executing against all three milestones.

Genomatica first produced BDO from glucose in February 2008, and has since demonstrated the ability to produce BDO at high levels from sucrose as well as from xylose, a five-carbon sugar. Development is primarily focused on sucrose because it is a readily available feedstock with a tradable forward market and with less pricing volatility compared to hydrocarbon feedstocks currently in use to make BDO. The ability to produce BDO from both six and five-carbon sugars now opens the way to possible second-generation BDO processes that use carbohydrates derived from lignocellulosic biomass, such as wood residue, municipal paper waste, agricultural waste or energy crops like switchgrass.

At the same time, company researchers have demonstrated 20,000-fold increases in the concentrations of BDO that microbes can produce, approaching the commercial levels needed to manufacture large volumes of BDO at reduced cost. Concurrently, the company created strains of the bacteria that are tolerant of the commercial target concentrations.

The company has shown the ability to produce purified BDO from various sugars, validating the feasibility of all of the major unit operations in the lab, and setting the stage for a demonstration plant facility. The company will focus on scaling up to begin operations at a demonstration plant in 2010.

The generation of purified BDO will allow Genomatica’s bio-manufacturing process to compete against petroleum-based equivalents and offer a cost advantage to producers. Many chemical producers are facing unprecedented business challenges as the global economic slowdown depresses demand, and the credit crisis hampers their ability to finance large-scale projects.

Fluctuating natural gas prices and possible changes in environmental and climate regulation have added to the uncertainty for petrochemical producers.