Eco-friendly Developments Blossom

Chemical makers strive to markedly extend the role of renewable feedstocks

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Adipic Acid Unit
Figure 2. Pilot plant employs yeast fermentation to turn non-food plant-based feedstocks into the acid.
Source: Verdezyne.

BASF also is using BIONEXGEN to build on its existing knowledge on the applications of enzymes to glycoscience and oligosaccharide synthesis. Baldenius explains: "Polysaccharides such as starch are a masterpiece of nature's synthetic power. We believe that clever derivatization can provide them with properties usually found in petro-derived polymers, so that the biopolymers can be used, for example, as dispersants. The framework of BIONEXGEN is to identify new enzymes and basic fields of application. Following proof-of-concept, the actual product development would then be carried out at BASF, or one of the other industrial partners."

FRANCO-CHINESE INITIATIVE
In early November 2011, the French National Center for Scientific Research, Rhodia, the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon and the East China Normal University officially opened the Laboratory of Eco-efficient Products and Processes (E2P2), an international joint research unit in Shanghai, China.

Based at Rhodia's research center in Shanghai, the new laboratory is dedicated to developing eco-efficient chemical processes. It will house research jointly carried out by scientists from academic institutes in China and Europe working together with industrial partners.

"All our research projects are assessed by a methodology based on the principles of lifecycle analysis. At a very early stage in designing a product or process, this analysis validates the pursuit of a research project if the results reveal a clear benefit with respect to human health and environment," explains E2P2 laboratory director Floryan Decampo, who comes to the lab from Rhodia. "Our E2P2 lab is another step further in this effort by targeting specifically new technologies capable of reducing significantly the use of fossil raw materials in specialty chemicals and hence reducing the carbon footprint of both our products and processes."

Decampo says that partnering with top academic institutions is key because the projects being carried out in Shanghai typically pose significant scientific challenges and may require breakthrough innovations. "The unique feature of this lab is that it assembles within the same team experts in different key competencies — including chemistry, polymers, catalysis, industrial, theoretical and eco-efficiency — allowing them to quickly tackle key challenges and deliver faster solutions."

Although Rhodia has other research centers around the world, Decampo says China was chosen for this latest investment — none of the financial details have been revealed — for three main reasons: Rhodia has a long presence in China, which is a key area for chemical industry growth; the country is facing some major environmental challenges, in part from the fast development of its chemical industry; and, with the rise of Chinese academic research to world-class stature, being in China presents a unique opportunity to develop strong partnerships with some of the best laboratories in their respective fields.

The center will help Rhodia with its "Rhodia Way" set of sustainability commitments, which include cutting water use by 10% between 2010 and 2015, decreasing energy consumption by 8% in the same period, and developing products that contribute to a reduced carbon footprint — for example, eco-friendly solvents, and plant-based products for body and hair applications.

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