Beta Renewables technology to make ethanol, bioglycols in China

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 18, 2013

M&G Chemicals announced its decision to construct a second-generation biorefinery in China to convert 1 million metric tons of biomass into ethanol and bioglycols. The project in the Fuyang region in Anhui Province is a joint venture with Chinese company Guozhen Group Co.  which will supply wheat straw and corn stover to the biorefinery plus utilize the lignin coproduct to feed a 45 megawatt cogeneration plant to be co-located with the biorefinery. M&G Chemicals will be the majority partner of the biorefinery and minority partner of the power plant.

The China facility will handle approximately four times the volume of biomass for processing as Beta Renewables’ first commercial facility in Crescentino, Italy, which was inaugurated in October. The 13 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant is using wheat straw, rice straw and arundo donax for cellulosic ethanol with the lignin coproduct used to generated enough power to meet the facility’s energy needs, plus excess to be sold to the grid.

The biorefinery will employ Prosea technology licensed from Beta Renewables, a joint venture between Biochemtex (a company in the Mossi Ghisolfi Group), U.S. private equity fund TPG and Danish enzyme producer Novozymes.

To support M&G Chemicals’ vision, Novozymes will provide financial support of $35 million, the exact details of which remain to be determined. Novozymes will be supplying the enzyme technology for the facility on an exclusive basis for a 15-year period, and does not currently expect to expand its enzyme production capacity to serve the new facility. Novozyme reported in its news release on the project that its revenue “is included in the expectations provided by Novozymes at the signing of the strategic partnership agreement with Beta Renewables in October, 2012.” At the time, Novozymes expected Beta Renewables to contract 15 to 25 biomass conversion facilities in the five-year period up to 2017 and that the sales potential for Novozymes from the 15-25 facilities, once operational, could be up to DKK 1 billion annually ($18 million).

The facility will be the world’s first biomass-to-glycols biorefinery, producing mono-ethylene glycol (MEG). MEG is used for the production of synthetic polyester fibers and as one of two main components in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) production, one of the key building blocks for plastic packaging, including plastic bottles for water.

“This is the first act of a green revolution that M&G Chemicals is bringing to the polyester chain to provide environmental sustainability to both PET beverage packaging and polyester textile” said Marco Ghisolfi, CEO of M&G Chemicals. “The timing and scope of our green polyester revolution and our manufacturing entry in China from the green PET raw materials avenue is even more relevant considering The Coca-Cola Co. has announced plans to use PlantBottle packaging, which is partially made from plants, for all of their PET plastic bottles across the globe by 2020.”

“M&G Chemicals is today taking a big step towards a bio-based society where biomass is used for products like fuel, chemicals and plastics. We are incredibly excited to enable M&G Chemicals’ vision of producing bio-plastics on a commercial scale and are looking forward to the long-term collaboration”, said Thomas Videbæk, executive vice president and head of business development for Novozymes.

“The second-generation bio-refinery and power cogeneration project is the core part of the Biomass Utilization Park that Guozhen plans to build in Fuyang City. Fuyang is rich in biomass resources; Guozhen is experienced in biomass collections and logistics; and M&G Chemicals owns the proven cutting-edge technology. Our cooperation will open a new era of biomass utilization and provide an effective solution for the full exploitation of biomass to tackle Chinese energy demand and environmental issues,” said Li Wei, chairman of Guozhen Group.