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Towards plant-based chemistry

Today, bio-based chemistry is considered to represent a realistic option for producing the majority of the main petrochemical intermediates currently derived from fossil resources. IFPEN has decided to make this field one of its principal development avenues.

The main target is to replace basic olefins, diolefins and aromatics with bio-based olefins, diolefins and aromatics, particularly for the production of plastics.

Generally speaking, the emergence of bio-based products stems not only from increasing consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly mass-market products, but also a growing need among the chemical industries and in the manufacturing sector to expand their raw material range. The fact is that world supplies of certain olefins (propylene and butadiene in particular) and aromatics have been significantly disrupted in the past few years, due to a production shortfall. This situation is mainly the result of changes in supplies to North American steam crackers, from naphtha to ethane (from shale gas); this evolution has led to diminishing production of by-products such as propylene, butadiene and benzene, the demand for which remains high. Consequently, other production processes have been boosted, including those based on renewable resources.

IFPEN is working on the development of processes, catalysts and biocatalysts for the transformation of biomass into olefins and aromatics.

For example, in 2015, IFPEN and Axens joined forces with American company Anellotech to develop a bio-aromatic production technology for bio-aromatics (BTX for benzene, toluene and xylene) based on lignocellulosic biomass. By combining a thermo-catalytic conversion process with a hydrotreatment process, it will be possible to achieve 100% bio-based BTX in just a few steps, thus ensuring the cost-effectiveness of the operation. The pilot unit required to test the process on an industrial scale will be operational during the course of 2016. These bio-aromatics may be used in the production of plastics for bottles and textile fibers for clothing.

                                                 Click on the picture to enlarge it

In the field of bio-sourced olefins, IFPEN, Total and Axens developed the Atol™ process for the production of bioethylene via the dehydration of ethanol obtained by fermentation (ethylene is used in the manufacture of numerous everyday products, such as polyethylene plastics: bottles, CDs, clothes, wrappers and protective films, vehicle accessories, etc.). Atol™ has been marketed by Axens since 2012. IFPEN is currently conducting research with Total and Axens to adapt the Atol™ process to other feeds, particularly biobutanol, in order to produce bio-based butenes (used for the production of plastics, elastomers, etc.).

Another major project concerning olefins is BioButterfly, launched in 2013, aimed at developing a bio-based butadiene production process. The project brings together Axens, IFPEN and Michelin and is being conducted as part of a strategy to create a French bio-based rubber industrial sector. The BioButterfly project covers all the research and development stages relating to the process, from the scientific concepts and the pilot phase, through to validation of an industrial demonstrator. The decision to move ahead to the development phase was taken in 2015 and a pilot unit will be constructed in 2016 on the IFPEN-Lyon site, to validate the fundamental building blocks of the process.
                                                The BioButterfly Project   
                                   Moving pictures on IFPEN YouTube channel                

Lastly, IFPEN is applying its biotech expertise to the development of bio-based propanol and butanol production processes. The challenge here is to identify a stable microorganism capable of producing these alcohols.

Press releases
+ Anellotech Breaks Ground on TCat-8™ in Silsbee, Texas. Operational in 2016, TCat-8 to confirm viability and suitability of Bio-TCat™ process for scale-up and commercialization
+ IFP Energies Nouvelles (IFPEN) and Axens to Expand Involvement with Anellotech Bio-TCat Process Development Program for Cost-effective Bio-based Aromatic
+ Axens, Total and IFPEN launch Atol™, an Innovative Technology for Bio-Ethylene Production Through Dehydration of Bio-Ethanol
+ BioButterfly : Axens, IFPEN and Michelin join forces to create a synthetic rubber production channel using biomass

Read more 
 + Industrial development > Biofuels and green chemistry

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Expected growth in bio-based products between now and 2025.