Eni forms partnership with Genomatica, Novamont on bio-based butadiene

Eni chemicals subsidiary Versalis is partnering with process technology company Genomatica and third-generation integrated biorefineries firm Novamont to enable production of butadiene from renewable feedstocks, the companies said on Tuesday.

Butadiene is a raw material used in the production of rubber for tires, electrical appliances, footwear, plastics, asphalt modifiers, additives for lubricating oil, pipes, building components, and latex.

The partnership, on the basis of which a joint venture will be established, will develop a comprehensive end-to-end process for production of polymer-grade butadiene from biomass, Versalis said.

Eni Versalis logoVersalis will hold a majority interest in the joint venture holding company, it said, aiming to be the first to build commercial plants using the process technology upon project success.

The agreement brings together the core competencies of all three companies, project officials said.

The partnership will leverage Genomatica's proprietary technologies and intellectual property for producing butadiene, Versalis' extensive expertise in catalysis process development and process engineering scale-up and market applications of butadiene derivatives, as well as Novamont's experience in renewable feedstocks.

Under the agreement, Versalis will use Genomatica's process technology for economically competitive and sustainable production of an important supply-constrained chemical.

The process technology aspect of the agreement is intended to be made available for future licensing in Europe, Africa and Asia, officials said.

Butadiene is a key intermediate for Versalis’ elastomers business. The raw material required to produce it, extracted from C4 and produced by cracking plants, is increasingly subject to availability problems, the company said.

Decreasing supplies and a lack of dedicated butadiene production facilities have resulted in significant long-term pressure on the price and volatility of the chemical, which in turn increases the price of butadiene-based products, including tires.

Concerns of scarcity in the butadiene market are compounded by growth forecasts within the BRIC countries where demand for automotive products made from butadiene, such as tires, is expected to increase, company officials said.

In this context, butadiene supplies from biomass have become strategic to Versalis. In times of C4 stream scarcity, it can be freed from naphtha cracking processes, according to the company.

"Genomatica's process technology for on-purpose butadiene combined with our experience in downstream applications and our ability to rapidly scale and commercialize the process can expand our industry's approach to C4 production, seizing a promising business opportunity in a market that is experiencing a critical time," said Daniele Ferrari, CEO of Versalis.

"This partnership, which follows the establishment of Matrica, the equal joint venture with Novamont for the production of monomers, intermediates and polymers from renewable sources, accelerates the entry of Versalis in that business by strengthening its leadership in elastomers, in line with the new strategy of focusing on products with high-added value."

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