New joint venture in Italy

An agreement between Versalis, Novamont and Genomatica aims at establishing a production chain from biomass to bio-butadiene polymer-grade

The bioplastic industry focuses its interest – and not only at Italian level – in the Sardinian project “Chimica Verde”, which aims at redeveloping the petrochemical industrial hub in Porto Torres (Sardinia, Italy) thanks to a massive investment plan by Matrìca, the biopolymers joint-venture created by Versalis and Novamont, bioplastics producer from Novara (Italy). Genomatica has been the last to join in the partnership by signing a letter of intent with Versalis and Novamont to create a new joint venture for the production of butadiene from renewable resources. The partnership will exploit Genomatica’s proprietary technologies for bio-butadiene (bio-BD) synthesis, Versalis’ skills for catalysis and process engineering on industrial-scale, as well as for end-uses of butadiene derivatives, combined with Novamont’s experience in the field of renewable raw materials.

Solid foundations
After proving the process validity on a laboratory scale, Genomatica will start the commercial production of bio-BD and bio-butanediol (bio-BDO). For this purpose 41.5 million dollars as financial resources have been scraped together, opening the capital to Versalis, which already owns a share in Novamont. Not to mention that Genomatica and Novamont, in the last months, have formed a joint-venture to produce bio-BDO in Adria (Rovigo, Italy), already starting from next year. Therefore a financial liaison between the partners has been outlined, which should guarantee the success of the operation.

First bio-butadiene production chain
The new joint-venture, with Versalis as majority stakeholder, has an ambitious goal, to create a production chain – the first in the world for the industrial sector – that goes from raw materials derived from biomass to bio-BD polymer-grade. According to the agreement, the three partners can spread their jointly developed technology in Europe, Africa and Asia.

This polymer, which is obtained from ethylene by petrochemical synthesis, is one of the main components of tire compounds, besides being used in the formulation of latex and modifiers for plastics. The world market is estimated about 40 billion dollars. Butadiene is a critical business intermediate for Versalis elastomers and the raw material necessary for its synthesis, extracted from C4 mixture produced by cracking systems, is increasingly subject to availability problems. The global scenario, takes over the company of ENI Group, sees a significant decline in C4 production, which is causing a significant long-term pressure on prices and the volatility of this intermediate. Hence the interest to find alternative supply sources, even better if they have high environmental value, easily marketable.