Sustainability Watch

By Marguerite Torrey

In This Section

July 2011

This month's Sustainability Watch column was provided by Marguerite Torrey, inform technical projects editor. Following is her summary of the hot topic on sustainable technologies presented on Tuesday, May 3, at the 102nd AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo.

That sustainability has become a watchword for the industries in which AOCS members work is no longer news. Indeed, entire meetings and courses are dealing with the topic. This year's Hot Topic Symposium considered sustainability in detergents as well as other products.

Jere Kolstad, president and chief financial officer of Rivertop Renewables (Missoula, Montana, USA), talked about "Glucaric Acid in the Detergent Business." His company, founded in 2008, is developing products from renewable resources to be used, for example, as replacements for phosphate builders in automatic dishwashing products. The company has patents on the chemical oxidation of glucose to form d-glucaric acid (Fig. 1). Capital costs are low, product yield is high, and Kolstad claims there is no waste. As a builder in an automatic dishwashing detergent, glucaric acid reduces spotting and filming on dishes, glassware, and flatware. Sugars such as glucose are inexpensive feedstocks, and Rivertop anticipates using other sugars as well in its processes. Glucaric acid also works well as a corrosion inhibitor for materials wetted by water; cooling towers could be a potential market. Additional uses might be ice-melting materials for public streets in winter, additives for building materials, cosmetics, and exfoliants. Further in the future, Rivertop and its partners expect to develop products using glucaric acid in adhesives, controlled release fertilizers, and fire and flame retardants.

Shireen Baseeth, who worked as a post-doc under AOCS member Milton Rosen, spoke on "Innovative Products for Bio-based Solutions" from the perspective of her work with Archer Daniels Midland Co. (Decatur, Illinois, USA). The bio-based products on which she works are made by "green" chemical methods designed to reduce and even eliminate negative environmental impacts. She indicated that early market penetration of these products will be greatest in the categories of specialty and fine chemicals; in 2011, less than 4% of US chemical sales are bio-based products. The potential by 2025 is 25%. Much of her talk concerned surfactants containing phospholipids derived from soybeans. These products are used as agricultural adjuvants to increase biological activity and to improve spray applications of pesticides by altering droplet size and reducing wind drift. Another application being explored for phospholipids is as dispersants in paint, allowing for use of less pigment. Baseeth emphasized that bio-based solutions are not just "replacements." There can be no compromise on functionality of these biobased products, she said.

Andy Shafer explained how Elevance Renewable Sciences, Inc. (Bolingbrook, Illinois, USA) is using olefin metathesis reactions in "Transforming Consumer and Industrial Applications-Novel Products and Technology Being Commercialized Now." The reactions are keyed to points of unsaturation, and can be carried out at low pressure and low temperature, making them less expensive than similar reactions without these properties. Metathesis is based on Grubbs' catalysts, which lead to modifications by vegetable oils through branching, chain extension/termination, oligomerization or polymerization, functional group insertion, or functional group exchange. Elevance and Wilmar International Ltd. are in a 50:50 joint venture to build a manufacturing facility in Surabaya, Indonesia. Production will start in the fourth quarter of 2011, and full-scale manufacturing is scheduled by 2014. The plant is being designed to produce specialty chemicals-9-decenoic acid is a key product-as well as olefins and oleochemicals. Elevance is also collaborating with Dow Corning in personal care products and Stepan in surfactants, quaternary biocides, and polyols for polyurethanes.

"Next Generation Oleochemical Products" was the subject of Wei Huang, vice president of process development and engineering for LS9 (South San Francisco, California, USA). The company is using fermentation of natural products to develop fuels and sustainable chemicals through synthetic biology. LS9 is presently using carbohydrates as the starting point in its fermentations to generate fatty acids (FA); genetic modifications of Escherichia coli allow the company to selectively produce lighter FA (C6-C10) or heavier FA (C10-C18). The process can also be controlled to select the degree of unsaturation in the FA. LS9 has made considerable progress in making renewable fuels that compare favorably with petrodiesel, Huang said. The company is also developing processes to generate fatty alcohols, to be used in surfactants, by manipulating the biochemical pathways in cyanobacteria. LS9 has been operating on a pilot scale since 2008; it anticipates demonstration-scale production by the third quarter of 2011.

One topic that came up in discussion among the presenters was the differences between the terms "sustainable" vs. "renewable" vs. "green" chemistry. Unfortunately, the consensus was that the topic would require its own symposium.