It is not a good time to Versalis. But, despite the uncertainty about its future, the chemical company of Italian oil giant Eni continues to focus on green chemistry together with Elevance Renewable Sciences. The high-growth company (headquartered in Woodridge, Illinois), that creates novel specialty chemicals from natural oils, has recently and successfully completed scale-up of a second-generation biorefinery technology of the company’s olefin metathesis technology, utilizing ethylene and natural oil feedstocks.
The ethenolysis process advancement represents an important milestone for the development of a second-generation metathesis technology (the first of its kind) enabling an enhanced product portfolio from natural oils metathesis. Catalysts produced by XiMo AG were used at Soneas’ manufacturing facility in Budapest, Hungary. The run represented a scale up of 40,000 times what had been previously demonstrated in the laboratory and the largest ever usage of “Schrock” (Molybdenum/Tungsten) catalysts for metathesis with ethylene and a renewable oil.
XiMo is a Swiss-based company focused on the development and application of proprietary metathesis catalysts for use in the specialty chemical, agro chemical, renewables, pharmaceutical, flavors and fragrances, polymers and advanced materials sectors. The company’s molybdenum and tungsten catalysts are based on the breakthrough scientific research of founders Amir Hoveyda at Boston College and Richard Schrock at MIT, co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
“This significant accomplishment advances the interests of several of our partners and demonstrates the advantages of working together,” said Mel Luetkens, COO at Elevance. “Elevance is pleased to be at the center of this collaboration and to be advancing these important developments for our partners and us. It is another validation of Elevance’s technology and the value that we bring to our partner relationships.”
XiMo and Elevance began working together in January 2011, carrying out successful demonstrations that make the Molybdenum- and Tungsten- catalyzed metathesis of natural oil esters commercially competitive. Soneas, formerly known as Ubichem Pharma Manufacturing, is a professional chemical service provider with pilot and commercial scale manufacturing facilities.
The advancement was partially funded by and supports a wider strategic partnership between Versalis and Elevance that includes the joint development of Elevance’s ethenolysis technology. This takes advantage of Versalis’ extensive skills in catalysis process development and engineering design and Elevance’s proprietary know-how regarding metathesis and associated engineering with the use of vegetable oils in producing specialty chemicals for premium applications.
Meanwhile, Versalis and Elevance have also been collaborating for the implementation at the Versalis Porto Marghera site of a biorefinery based on Elevance proprietary technology of natural oils’ metathesis with 1-butene.
“We strongly believe in the potential of metathesis technology since it is a mild reaction that does not destroy the molecular complexity of vegetable feedstocks, the highest value of them,” said Sergio Lombardini, Director of Research & Innovation Technology at Versalis. “This is why even in the engineering phase for a butene-1 metathesis plant, we are looking at ethylene as an alternative co-feedstock aiming to target an even higher value of products portfolio.”
Versalis leads the industry in manufacturing intermediates, polyethylene, styrenics and elastomers and has entered the green chemicals and polymers industry partnering also with worldwide biotech companies.
The ethenolysis tolling run was also partially funded by a grant from the United States Soybean Board given to Elevance for metathesis of soybean oil products, which were used as feedstocks for this project.