Europe’s first multi-purpose fermentation plant for the continuous production of bio-based chemicals has been recently inaugurated in Leuna, Saxony-Anhalt (Germany). Built at a cost of around 20 million euros, the facility will enable the German multinational conglomerate corporation ThyssenKrupp, one of the world’s largest steel producers (more than 43 billion euros in revenue), to further expand its research and development activities in the area of biochemicals based on renewable raw materials.
Among other things, these biochemicals are used as starting materials for biodegradable plastics such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polybutylene succinate (PBS). Bioplastics are ideal for processing into packaging materials, films and textiles. It is expected that some 4.5 million tons of polyethylene (PET) a year will be replaced by bioplastics in the coming years, helping reduce environmental impact and conserve resources.
ThyssenKrupp Ceo, Heinrich Hiesinger, sees significant market potential: “Modern biotechnology is one of the key technologies of the 21st century. Biotechnological processes, products and services play a role in almost all areas of our daily lives – for example in the development of new medicines, plant varieties, detergents and cosmetics. Industrial biotechnology is part of our growth strategy. ThyssenKrupp has extensive expertise in this area – from basic research to the operation of industrial-scale pilot plants.”
Secretary of state Marco Tullner from Saxony-Anhalt’s Ministry of Science and Economic Affairs, believes the investment will further strengthen Leuna’s position as a center for chemicals: “Saxony-Anhalt has evolved into an innovative business location. A qualified workforce, attractive commercial and industrial zones, and a well-developed infrastructure offer ideal conditions – including for industry. The opening of the ThyssenKrupp facility in Leuna shows that we have created clear advantages here for future technologies.”
The BioEconomy cluster in Leuna focuses on the integrated material and energetic utilisation of non-food biomass to generate materials, chemicals, products made from new materials, and energy sources. The linking of different economic sectors in the cluster (e.g. timber and forestry, chemicals, plant engineering, energy), the integrated management of cross-cluster material flows and the development, scaling and industrial realisation of production processes aim at facilitating the optimised utilisation of biomass.
An interdisciplinary team of engineers and scientists from ThyssenKrupp’s plant technology business worked for five years to develop a licensable process for the production of lactic acid. The company’s technical center for research into biochemicals was relocated from Leipzig to Leuna in August 2012. The multi-purpose fermentation plant inaugurated will enable ThyssenKrupp to test its laboratory-developed fermentation and processing technologies on an industrial scale. More than 1,000 metric tons of biochemicals such as lactic acid and succinic acid can now be produced at this facility annually.