The Digest’s 2015 6-Minute Country Guide to France’s Advanced Bioeconomy

French-flagMandates and national consumption

Key takeaway: France is part of the EU and its overall Renewable Energy Directive, and is ramping up national targets. But think chemicals as well. France is the EU’s 2nd largest producer, with 15% of EU sales. 

In December 2014, we reported that the national oil body UFIP had agreed to increase the biodiesel blending mandate to 8% from the current 7%, with the official publication expected before the year’s end. It warned, however, that going above 7% may void some car manufacture warranties by going above the EU-wide approved 7% level.

Overall, we reported that E10 consumption made up 34% of total gasoline sales in 2014, up 3 points from 2013. The growth in consumption, up 10% on the year, was the first after several years of stagnation or falling consumption. Most gasoline sold across the country is blended with between 5% and 6% ethanol, though E10 and E85 are gaining popularity.

Key Producers

Key takeaway: France is home to BioAmber, home to the sector’s top IPO last year, and Total, one of the major global giants, and which is highly active both in 1G fuels, and advanced 2G processes through its extended set of relationships with and investments in Amyris. And Tereos is a major 1G ethanol player. But also there are major players in the fermentation business such as Roquette and LeSaffre, flowing out of France’s traditional strengths in the bakery segment.

In December 2014, we reported that BioAmber had signed an exclusive supply agreement for bio-based succinic acid with Oleon. Under the terms of the 5-year contract, which runs from 2014 to the end of 2018, BioAmber Sarnia, a joint venture with Mitsui & Co., will supply Oleon with bio-based succinic acid for the development and production of succinate lubricants.Our proprietary technology platform combines industrial biotechnology, an innovative purification process and chemical catalysis to convert renewable feedstocks into chemicals that are cost-competitive replacements for petroleum-derived chemicals.

In July 2014, BioAmber priced a 2.8M share offering at $12.00 per share, and raised $33.6M. The company granted the underwriters in the offering a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 420,000 shares of its common stock. Net proceeds, after underwriting discounts and commissions and other estimated fees and expenses payable by BioAmber were approximately $31.1 million.

Fascinatingly, we reported in June 2015 that Flokser Group had successfully developed an innovative artificial leather fabric using bio-based materials supplied by DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products and BioAmber. Flokser has launched this new synthetic leather fabric under its SERTEX brand.  The novel fabric comprises a polyester polyol made from BioAmber’s Bio-SA bio-based succinic acid and DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products’ Susterra bio-based 1,3-propanediol.

In April 2015, Total ended months of speculation by confirming plans to revamp its La Mede oil refinery into a 500,000 metric ton per year biodiesel facility. The company will invest more than €200 million to convert the facility while cutting 178 jobs, a decision that has led workers to go on strike and stop all products from leaving the facility. About 55,000 t/yr of biopropane and bionaphtha will be produced when the renovated facility comes online.

On the Amyris front, we reported in June 2015 that Total and Amyris had agreed on key business terms for restructuring its fuels joint venture to open the way for proceeding with commercialization of its jet fuel technology over the coming years. Following the restructuring, Total would own 75% of the joint venture with Amyris. In conjunction with this transaction, Amyris also agreed on terms with Total and Temasek under which these stockholders would exchange an aggregate of $138 million of convertible debt for Amyris common stock at a price of $2.30 per share, with an additional $37 million of outstanding convertible debt being restructured to eliminate Amyris’s repayment obligation at maturity and provide for mandatory conversion to Amyris common stock.

How soon for Amyris-Total jet fuel? In September 2014, KLM tipped that it intended to fly on Amyris-Total renewable jet fuel, as soon as it receives favorable advice from their independent Sustainability Advisory Board. Last November, news filtered out of California that ASTM has revised the D7566, the Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons to include the use of renewable farnesane as a blending component in jet fuels for commercial aviation.

With that news, Amyris and Total said that they will now prepare to market a drop-in jet fuel that contains up to 10% blends of renewable farnesane.

In June 2015, Tereos said it had produced 16.5% more ethanol at 1.9 million cubic liters during the year through March, in addition to more sugar and more starch, but profits fell 90% due to low prices for all three products. The company is trying to further consolidate ahead of the reform of the EU’s sugar market in 2017 by merging with Cristal Union, but the offer was rejected earlier this year.

In April 2014, we reported the launch of Leaf Technologies (LESAFFRE ADVANCED FERMENTATION TECHNOLOGIES), focused on the worldwide sales and market development of value-added fermentation solutions for fuel ethanol and bio-based chemicals producers. Leaf Technologies’ mission is to reinforce Lesaffre’s current position on the first generation fuel ethanol market and continue innovating in the field of lignocellulosic ethanol. Using synergies within its team, the Lesaffre group and through academic and industrial partnerships, Leaf Technologies will also develop cutting-edge solutions for bio-based chemicals producers.

In new capacity, we reported in April 2015 that Roquette, the world’s 5th largest starch processor, had announced the launch of a new industrial unit for the production of isosorbide at its site in Lestrem, Pas-de-Calais, France. The production unit, which has a capacity of 20,000 tons, allows Roquette to offer a range of POLYSORB isosorbide. POLYSORB can be used as a substitute for bisphenol A in polycarbonates, while improving the properties of this polymer, such as optical properties, resistance to ultra-violet (UV) light and better resistance to chemicals and high temperatures.

Also, we reported in August 2015 that the Longchamps biomethane plant had opened in Franche-Comte region, in eastern France. The WELTEC biomethane plant is now supplying to the natural gas grid of the French gas distributor GrDF (Gaz r.seau Distribution France). Plant operator David Peterschmitt uses about 6,000 t of agricultural leftovers a year for the production of biogas from anaerobic digestion.

In M&A activity, we reported in July 2014 that Butalco had been acquired by Lesaffre. The French company has been a multi-national for some time, highly visible in baking, nutrition and health, flavors and fermentation. Readers with sharp memories might recall that back in July 2012, the early-stage Butalco sold its xylose isomerase technology (xylose isomerase from Clostridium phytofermentans) to Lesaffre — so you could see this acquisition as in some ways a deepening and broadening of an already interesting relationship.

We had also in 2014 reported the break-up of Solazyme Roquette, a JV aimed at producing a new range of food ingredients made from renewable plant-based raw materials with exceptional nutritional potential. The story took a turn for the strange in June 2014 when Roquette introduced a production unit dedicated to microalgae at its industrial site in Lestrem (Pas de Calais, France). The unit has production capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 tons/year.

And the story turned downright nasty when in February 2015 an arbitrator ruled in favor of Solazyme in a major battle over IP. The arbitrators found that “The evidence at the hearing revealed that during the life of the Joint Venture, Roquette, surreptitiously, and without notice to Solazyme, filed patent applications on its own behalf, based on Patent Applications filed by the Joint Venture.” Incredibly, the arbitrators found that, while the JV had filed patent applications credited to both Roquette and Solazyme individuals, “The Roquette patent applications…were essentially copycat or shadow-applications of the SRN applications with the names of the Solazyme inventors deleted.”

Process Technology Research & Development

Key takeaway: It’s busy. In Champagne-Ardennes alone, there are 44 global companies, 86 SMEs, and 25 start-ups.

In the R&D network, there are 4 Universities, 6 engineering schools, 2 private centers, and 3 demo plants. France’s researchers have been especially active in isobutene, cellulosic fuels and chemicals  — through an array of research combines such as ARD and the Futurol project, and emerging companies such as Deinove and Global Bioenergies.

But think players like Michelin, Cristal Union, Chambr, Air Liquide, L’Oreal, Solainace, Nestal, Desalis, Cristanol, and Total in addition to biobased stalwarts such as BioAmber and Tereos.

In September 2015, we reported that Global Bioenergies had joined aireg – Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany. The French industrial biology company, which is currently developing its demonstration plant in Leuna, Germany will soon be able to produce alternative jet fuel from sugars. Through their cooperation both organizations plan to expedite the market uptake of renewable, low-carbon fuels in the aviation sector.

It was one of many advances for Global Bioenergies, which in May 2015 formed with Crisal Union the IBN-One a joint venture to build and operate the first plant in France converting renewable resources into isobutene. IBN-One is a société anonyme (limited liability corporation) with share capital of EUR1,000,000, jointly owned by Cristal Union and Global Bioenergies. Global Bioenergies has granted IBN-One a non-exclusive license to use its isobutene process for a 50,000 tonne capacity plant to be located in France.

Not long before that, Global Bioenergies’ David Gogerty and Ronan Rocle, authored this Thought Leadership article in The Digest on isooctane.

Meanwhile, Deinove is not to be outdone, as we reported in September 2015 when they produced muconic acid in their laboratory using second-generation substrates. DEINOVE had recently announced that it had deployed a new R&D platform dedicated to the production of muconic acid, a versatile chemical intermediate whose derivatives – caprolactam, terephthalic acid (a precursor to PET) and adipic acid — are widely used in the plastics industry, and the production of synthetic fibers for textiles, and acidifying agents for food.

Meanwhile, IFP Energies nouvelles and its subsidiary Axens created a strategic alliance to develop and commercialize a new technology for the low cost production of bio-based benzene, toluene and paraxylene using Anellotech’’s process of Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis (CFP) of non-food biomass. The technology will address large-scale units and produce purified aromatics streams suitable for modern derivative production processes at a very competitive price with respect to their petroleum-based counterparts.

And to the south, Toulouse White Biotechnology and Hamilton launched a new bioprocessing platform with 24 integrated mini-bioreactors (50 mL), that will  significantly speed up the process to develop industrial bioprocess solutions for a wide range of applications in green chemistry, including chemicals, enzymes, biopolymers, biofuels. The technology features in-depth characterization and culture optimization of microorganisms.

On the consortium front, partners in the Futurol project tipped in June 2015 that they are moving to a full scale pretreatment process and marketing of its technology. A pretreatment unit on an industrial scale is now being build at the Tereos de Bucy-Le-Long site, with the production starting in 2016. The next stage will launch the industrial testing. This third key stage of the project is aimed to initiate the marketing of the Futurol technology. The Futurol project, launched in 2008, brings together 11 major partners covering the entire sector, from plants to tank: R&D players (ARD, IFP Energies nouvelles, INRA and Lesaffre), industrial players (Office National des Forêts, Tereos, Total), Vivescia) and financial players (Crédit Agricole Nord Est, CGB, Unigrains).

Meanwhile, the ARD consortium inaugurated its new premises at the center of what has since become the biorefinery of Bazancourt-Pomacle. The new building, the consortium partners say, represents the ambitions of a team of over 90 people dedicated to creating value from crops through industrial processes. A research and development company located at the heart of the regional biorefinery of Pomacle-Bazancourt, France, and backed by the cooperative players VIVESCIA and CRISTAL UNION, ARD has two main activities. The first is the scaling up of processes from the laboratory stage to industrial demonstration stage in the fields of biorefining, industrial biotechnologies, and green chemistry.

Finally, we reported in May 2015 that Taurus Energy was awarded 20 million euros to develop a 2nd generation ethanol demo plant in France. The project will run for three years at a cost of $35 million euro, and will demonstrate an environmentally clean method which will separate lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose without causing damage to any of the ingredients and with a resulting higher yield of ethanol compared to known methods existing today. Additionally, the lignin that is separated out in the process will be used by CIMV to produce various special chemicals. The group will share the award with partners CIMV, Rlkem, and Dyadic.

Feedstocks & Supply Chain

Key takeaway: Although the US and Asia tend to attract more attention for algae, Fermentalg has become a star player. And there’s activity in tobacco, too, of note.

In February 2015, we reported that Fermentalg and Adisseo had announced a new partnership. The two groups decided to combine their respective expertise in the joint development of new generations of proteins for animal feed. For Pierre Calleja, founder and Chairman and CEO of Fermentalg, “Today’s animal feed industry is faced with the dual dilemma of the sharp increase in demand for proteins and the constant depletion in marine resources. Thanks to their unique metabolism which draws on the best of both the animal and plant kingdoms, microalgae have a similar nutritional profile and value to fishmeal, making them a sustainable answer to this global challenge.”

This year, the hot news from Fermentalg was in passing the symbolic mark of one tonne of DHA-rich (Omega 3) oil produced using its patented technology for growing microalgae in a predominantly heterotrophic, mixotrophic environment. The oil was produced at an industrial site adapted to the technology in 2 runs during the first days of April 2015. Fermentalg was also able to reduce the length of the batch production cycle by 10% to further improve its yield performance. All told, over two tonnes of dry biomass were produced, which contain around a tonne of DHA-rich oil that is currently being extracted bringing oil production to date to well over the tonne mark. This success confirms Fermentalg’s robust technology and capacity to meet the industrial challenges of mass production (scale-up).

Meanwhile, Deinove announced a partnership with Tyton BioEnergy Systems, an agricultural biotech company with unique tobacco technology used to produce green chemicals and agricultural products. The main goal of the partnership is to combine Tyton’s energy tobacco feedstock, process and production infrastructure with Deinove’s Deino-based fermentation solutions in order to produce green chemical compounds of high commercial value.

5-Minute Company Guides

Global Bioenergies

BioAmber

 

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