Europeans convert biofuel byproducts into styrene and acrylates

By Erin Voegele | September 27, 2011

Researchers in the Netherlands are working to develop a process that is capable of using biofuel byproducts as a feedstock for biobased styrene and acrylic acid production. The project, titled “Acrylic and Styrenic Monomers and Polymers from Biomass (ACTION project),” is housed under the Biobased Performance Materials Programme at Wageningen University and Research centre.

Styrene and acrylates are chemicals building blocks that can be used to produce coatings, optical fibers, plexiglass, glues, plastics and a variety of other products. The process that is being developed by the research team at Wageningen UR together with the participating industrial partners converts sugars and proteins present in ethanol and biodiesel byproducts into these chemical building blocks.

According to Jérôme Le Nôtre, the ACTION project’s project manager, the process to convert protein into styrene and acrylates is completed using a two step process. The first step involves the isolation and hydrolyzation of proteins, he said. The second is focused on the catalytic conversion of amino acids into styrene and acrylates. The project is also investigating the possibility of converting sugars into acrylic acid via a fermentation process that is combined with a catalytic reaction.

Several private entities and research institutions are taking part in the project. BASF, GreenICT, Synbra and DSM with Wageningen University and the Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research institute are all participating. The idea is that parties representing all components of the value chain work together, said Christiaan Bolck, programme manager of Biobased Materials at Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research and director of the Biobased Performance Materials programme.

Le Nôtre said that the processes have been evaluated on a laboratory scale to date. So far, he said, we have shown a proof of principle and the technology has been patented. He also noted that the primary goal of the ACTION project is to improve each step of the production process, in terms of technology performance, economics, and scale. It is also important that the materials achieve competitive price levels. “All the necessary process steps have not yet been carried out in the right order, but that is what we now intend to do,” Le Nôtre said. 


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