“We believe that we are at the beginning of an evolution in the chemical industry where man has the ability to replace some chemicals that have been produced via the petro route with the same chemicals now using sugar as their source of carbon instead of fossil fuels”. Mike Hartmann, executive vice president of BioAmber, talks to Il Bioeconomista
BioAmber is a sustainable chemicals company, whose proprietary technology platform combines industrial biotechnology and chemical catalysis to convert renewable feedstock into building block chemicals for use in a wide variety of everyday products including plastics, resins, food additives and personal care products. The company, which is one of the main world bioeconomy’s players, has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since May 2013, under the symbol BIOA. And is also listed on the NYSE Euronext Paris exchange, under the same symbol. BioAmber is a Delaware corporation with a head office in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, a research facility in Plymouth (Minneapolis), Minnesota, and a commercial plant operating in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Its investors include Sofinnova Partners (France), Naxos Capital Partners (Luxemburg), Mitsui & Co. (Japan), Lanxess (Germany) and the Cliffton Group (Canada).
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
BioAmber is often taken as an example of a company established in Europe but which has found in America the best conditions for the industrial scale-up of its technology. What are the main differences between Canada and Europe in supporting the bioeconomy?
BioAmber has always been a US company since its founding in the late 1990’s. We did a joint venture with a French Agriculture consortium (Agro-Industrie Recherches et Développements, editor’s note) and that JV was called BioAmber. When we bought the JV back, we changed our name from DNP Green Technologies to the name of the joint venture, BioAmber. We found the main reason for building our commercial facility in North America had to do with lower sugar, and energy cost which represent a majority of our costs, allowing us to be a low cost producer.
Last June BioAmber announced that construction of its 30,000 MT succinic acid plant in Sarnia, Ontario, was substantially complete. What is now the state of the art?
The plant began commercial operations in, November 2015. We expect that the ramp up will go through 2016. We are currently producing and selling Succinic Acid from the plant.
You are popular for the production of bio-based succinic acid. But what exactly is the succinic acid? In which kind of products can we find this chemical building block?
Succinic acid is a C-4 chemical building block. It and its derivatives can be found in a wide range of application from personal care and food & flavours to spandexm polyester, polyurathanes and lubricants. These chemicals are in paints and coatings, spandex, shampoos, artificial leathers, shoe soles, foods, and biodegradable plastics to name some of the end applications.
BioAmber has relevant competitors such as Reverdia and Succinity GmbH. What is the market value of succinic acid in the world? What percentage of the market is your goal?
The current market size is roughly 60,000MT per year and is projected to grow by 35% per year. We don’t have a percentage market size goal but rather want to grow quickly with this fast growing market as we bring more plants on line in the future.
Bioeconomy and circular economy are two increasingly prevalent economic paradigms, but that public opinion still does not understand. How can stakeholders and authorities better communicate the benefits of bio-based products compared to those of fossil origin?
We substantially reduce the CO2 needed to make exactly the same products that have traditionally been made by the petro route, thereby leaving oil in the ground with little emissions to the environment. Bio-based chemicals are the exact same as the petro based ones, the key is to be able to produce them cost competitively.
Last April in Utrecht, European bioeconomy stakeholders discussed the introduction of a carbon tax? What do you think about this measure to support bioproducts?
We are in favour of such a tax as long as it was introduced fairly on actual emissions of carbon. To be effective, it needs to be done on a global basis, otherwise there will simply be a movement of production of CO2 emitting plants to certain parts of the world and there is no net reduction globally.
In December the COP21 in Paris ended with an agreement described by many as a historic achievement. How can this agreement boost the bioeconomy?
I think anytime world leaders get together to discuss the importance of reducing emissions globally, it can only help the bio-based economy. Words do need to be put into action and we hope that this is a step in the overall reduction of global emissions. We are seeing funds divest themselves of fossil fuels and placing greater importance of investing in sustainable companies and industries.
As far as you’re concerned, is the future of chemical industry really bio-based?
We believe that we are at the beginning of an evolution in the chemical industry where man has the ability to replace some chemicals that have been produced via the petro route with the same chemicals now using sugar as their source of carbon instead of fossil fuels. Can every chemical be produced biologically, probably not, but we are seeing more and more chemicals pathways that will increase the amount of biochemicals replacing petro chemicals.