The Race for Bionylon heats up: Rennovia enters piloting stage of its key bio-based HDO platform



In California, Rennovia has now successfully commissioned, and is operating, all core pilot plant operations for its sugars to 1,6-hexanediol (1,6-HDO) process.

When we say something as obscure as 1.6-hexanediol, think “nylon”

Rennovia’s 1,6-HDO is a platform intermediate to several commodity chemicals with over $20 billion market value, including hexamethylenediamine (HMD), adipic acid, and caprolactam.

Rennovia has successfully combined its bio-based AA and HMD to produce 100% renewable nylon-6,6. For our money, we think about this as a step towards establishing HMD as a platform.

Next steps

The completion of key piloting activities and the development of a 1,6-HDO commercial design package are anticipated by the end of this year.  Rennovia is in active discussions with a number of potential strategic partners to support the commercialization of 1,6-HDO and downstream products.

The commercial premise

Back in 2013, we reported that Rennovia had produced bio-based nylon-6,6 polymer, under Rennovia’s RENNLON brand, made from its biobased adipic acid and HMD.

At the time, Rennovia believed that production costs for Rennovia’s bio-based AA and HMD are projected to be 20-25% below that of conventional petroleum-based AA and HMD, with a significantly lower per-pound capital cost. Additional projected benefits include an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional petroleum-derived AA, and a 50% reduction in GHG emissions compared to conventional petroleum-derived HMD.

Now, petroleum costs have dropped substantially since then — but as they make their climb back towards the $70 mark they are predicted to reach next year, this process may well find itself in the catbird seat among biobased alternatives.

The ADM angle

Archer Daniel Midlands has expressed strong interest in supporting Rennovia’s commercialization of these products through feedstock supply and co-investment value chain partnering.

The big step forward for ADM and Rennovia dates back to 2014, when ADM made a $25 million equity investment in Rennovia. At the time, the partners thought that the company’s first products would be nylon intermediates adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine (HMD).

The collaboration went back father, to March 2014, when Johnson Matthey and Rennovia announced their collaboration to develop and commercialize production technology for bio-based glucaric acid and adipic acid.

In July 2015, we reported that Johnson Matthey Process Technologies and Rennovia successfully started-up a mini-plant for production of glucaric acid from glucose.

And a big step occurred just last month when we reported that Johnson Matthey and Rennovia signed a license agreement with ADM to provide catalyst and process technology for catalytic production of bio-based glucaric acid.

As we observed then, “so, glucaric is hot, adipic is hotter, chemical catalysis is the hottest of all. Glucaric takes you to detergents and cleaners, concrete formulations, de-icing and anti-corrosion markets. Adipic takes you to nylon 6,6, and when I say “who’s going to deliver renewable, affordable adipic” I want you to substitute the phrase “rich like Warren Buffett”  in your mind.”

The HDO backstory

In its own right and aside from tis role in producing nylon, 1,6-HDO is a specialty chemical widely used today in a variety of formulated products, including coatings, adhesives, and elastomers.  Rennovia’s novel production process employs its proprietary catalyst technology and is projected to provide 1,6-HDO with drop-in performance properties.  This bio-based product is anticipated to have greatly reduced greenhouse gas and environmental impacts versus petroleum-based 1,6-HDO.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“The recent dramatic increase in petrochemical raw material prices and HMD supply issues reinforce the need for new and differentiated HMD capacity.  We believe the timing is right to bring new 1,6-HDO and HMD technologies to the market place.” said Robert Wedinger, Chief Executive Officer of Rennovia.  “We look forward to selecting strategic partnerships to commercialize our innovative processes for the production of cost-advantaged chemicals,” continued Dr. Wedinger.

“We continue to see a strong synergy in leveraging Rennovia’s breakthrough new catalyst technology at our manufacturing facilities to diversify our product mix and efficiently produce higher value bio-based chemicals and diversify our feedstock supply for our customers,” said Kevin Moore, President of Renewable Chemicals for ADM.

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