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April 1, 2007

A sustainable route to succinic acid

A demonstration plant that will produce 5,000 m.t./yr of succinic acid from biomass will be built in Pomacle, France, by BioAmber, a joint venture of Diversified Natural Products (DNP, New York, N.Y.; and Agro Industries Recherche et Developpement (ARD, Pomacle). Succinic acid, used in a variety of products, including cosmetics and foods, is produced mainly from maleic anhydride at present. Scheduled for startup in mid-2008, the plant will help develop interest in bio-based acid and hence help reduce dependence on oil, says Dilum Dunuwila, DNP's director of research and development.

Succinic acid will be produced from carbon dioxide and glucose in a process licensed from the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE; Washington, D.C.). The demonstration plant will be located adjacent to a 55-million-gal/yr ethanol plant that ARD plans to start up in May. Both plants will use sugar derived from wheat as feed and the acid plant will also take CO2 offgas from the ethanol-fermentation unit.

The first step in the succinic acid process is the aerobic growth of a proprietary E.coli strain, which serves as a catalyst for the second, anaerobic step. In the latter stage, the air is cut off, and CO2 is pumped in. Glucose is the carbon source in both steps. The E.coli consumes the glucose and CO2 to produce succinic acid. However, a high acid concentration would kill the E.coli, so ammonium hydroxide is added continuously, forming ammonium succinate in solution. This is subsequently concentrated by evaporation, then sulfuric acid is added to obtain succinic acid crystals.


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