Global Bioenergies reports the production of butadiene by direct fermentation from renewable resources

Global Bioenergies' lab
Global Bioenergies’ lab

Global Bioenergies, one of the few companies worldwide and the only one in Europe that is developing a process to convert renewable resources into hydrocarbons through fermentation announces having succeeded in the production of bio-sourced butadiene by direct fermentation. It is the first time ever an entirely biological production process – i.e. without any chemical step – is reported for butadiene, one of the most important petrochemical building blocks.

Butadiene is a key platform molecule of the petrochemical industry with a world-wide market of over 10 million metric tons per year. As of today, butadiene is exclusively obtained from fossil resources, principally through extraction from naphtha cracking. Given the decrease in naphtha cracking capacities, there is a need for alternative routes to butadiene.

In this context Global Bioenergies has signed in 2011 a collaboration agreement with Synthos, a leader in the production of butadiene-derived rubber products, to develop a direct fermentation route allowing a cost-effective transformation of renewable resources into butadiene. Since such a direct biological route does not exist in nature, Global Bioenergies first had to invent a new metabolic pathway comprised of a series of non-natural enzymatic reactions. This step was successfully achieved in December 2012.

The next step consisted in improving the activity of those enzymes and implementing them into a bacterial strain. Global Bioenergies announces having created such a proprietary production strain. This strain was placed in a lab-scale fermentation device, and upon the addition of glucose, the presence of butadiene in the off-gases was detected. This is the first time ever that the production of butadiene by direct fermentation from renewable resources has been reported.

“We now have in our hands – Chief Technology Officer Frédéric Pâques comments – a prototype process for the direct biological conversion of renewable resources into butadiene. We expect that this butadiene program will deploy in the next years as did our isobutene process, our most mature asset now operated in an industrial pilot. Direct fermentation of butadiene has major inherent advantages translating into better economics. We expect to demonstrate these in an industrial environment in the next few years.”

Jarosław Rogoża, R&D Director and member of the board at Synthos adds: “We have joined this program in 2011 when it was still in the discovery stage and are very glad it has since then followed the planned trajectory. We consider that the program is now significantly de-risked. We are looking forward to see how the program will behave in the next phase, dedicated to the optimization and scale-up of the process.”

Global Bioenergies, headquartered in Evry (France), was founded in October 2008 by Marc Delcourt and Philippe Marlièr and is a great example of the new opportunities for economic growth opened by the bioeconomy. In February 2009, the company raised 3.2 million euros from Seventure Partners, the Venture Capital subsidiary of BPCE, a cooperative banking institution, one of France’s main banks. In 2009, a proof of concept was obtained for the process leading to the bio-production of isobutene. A lab-scale prototype was built in 2010. Two preliminary agreements have been signed on the isobutene process, one with an American major and one with a German car manufacturer. In July 2011, Global Bioenergies has performed its IPO to raise the capital necessary to the development of its isobutene process: 6.6 milion euros have thus been raised on the NYSE Alternext market in Paris. In the same year, the company has announced the signature of a partnership with Synthos to replicate to butadiene the success originally obtained on isobutene, another member of the light olefins family. A milestone in this partnership has been reached in December 2012 which has resulted in the payment of 2.7million euros by Synthos to Global Bioenergies. In June 2013, Global Bioenergies announced the beginning of the industrial pilot phase of its isobutene process, in collaboration with Arkema and supported by a 5.2 million euros financing to be received from the French State (“Investissements d’Avenir” program).


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