Not All Chemicals Are Created Equal™

Farm Bill Update

June 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Policy - (0 Comments)

Yes, I’m prolific today. Post #3. But I can’t help myself. It seems every time we get close to Farm Bill closure, the House orders a drum of herbicide and we’re back to plowing under all that has emerged to date. The latest passage in this saga (pun intended… there was no passage of anything in the House) is well-chronicled in this Politico item entitled, How the farm bill failed, by David Rogers. While it gives a blow-by-blow of all that happened – probably more than you’d ever want to know – it does include, buried in the middle of the story – this one, almost lyrical, journalistic sentence: …the bill remains one of the great untold political stories of this Congress, not just for the regional intrigue but the opportunity it offers to reshape a historic safety net — important to food and the land, the poor and a vital piece of the American economy.

Speaking in terms of our own self-interest, there are potential parts of the legislation (the Senate version in particular) that would provide a significant, low-budget boost to the renewable chemicals industry at a cost which is virtually a rounding error in the nearly trillion dollar package. But we’re like passenger strangers in the way back of John Candy’s polka band van in Home Alone. In other words, this trip is all about bigger, broader political issues with little attention being paid to renewable chemicals in this vortex of food stamp, subsidy, insurance, big farm and small farm, and urban versus rural faction issues.

So the Farm Bill has an extended growing season. Let’s hope a permanent, hard, legislative frost doesn’t set in before meaningful progress can begin anew.

Seems C&EN shares my perspective on the BIO World Congress. Here’s an interesting overview of the changes in tone, style, and substance at BIO World gatherings over the past few years. It’s by Melody Bomgardner of CENtral Science, which calls itself the blog community for all things chemistry, and which is hosted by Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) magazine. Among other observations, she writes, It used to be all about the super microbe – speakers would show off elaborate slides with metabolic pathways – they all looked like very complicated subway maps… This year the subject matter is all about scale up and applications. The language is more MBA than MicroBio. Supply chains, value chains, financing, customers, joint ventures, IPOs.

You’ll have to forgive my lapse in blogging. The last week has been dizzying, distracting, and down-right dastardly. Between the House of Representatives tanking the Farm Bill, and the epic battle between the B’s and Chicago, my head is spinning. But, a bright light amidst all the darkness:  Last week was big. On Monday, we announced the successful start of our bio-succinic acid plant in Lake Providence, Louisiana… the first of its kind in the nation. (Yeah, baby!). You can read more about that in this news release. More is also available from this blog post about this significant milestone by our Chairman and CEO, Stephen Gatto. Further, on Tuesday, Steve welcomed attendees of the 2013 BIO World Congress in Montreal to the plenary session on the commercialization of biorefineries. Following his remarks, Myriant also presented this video tribute to the intersection of agriculture and industry entitled, There’s No Saying No to “Know-How.”

Another brigh spot: The BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology is the world’s largest industrial biotechnology event for business leaders, investors, and policy makers in biofuels, biobased products, and renewable chemicals. In this report, entitled Progress, Growth, Milestones and Success: Theme of Day One at World Congress, you can read an account of first day events and activities at BIO World which, by the way, has grown from 300 attendees in its first year to more than 1,200 attendees from 30 different countries now.

Myriant announced today that start-up activities are well underway at our flagship Lake Providence, Louisiana, bio-succinic acid plant which, by the way, is the first of its kind and scale in North America. This milestone marks the second announcement in almost as many weeks validating Myriant’s commercial-scale production capabilities for succinic acid. On May 30th, we released the news about our successful scaling and commercial production of bio-succinic acid at ThyssenKrupp Uhde’s biotech commercial validation facility in Leuna, Germany.

You can access the full Lake Providence announcement, from here at Myriant’s homepage, which includes information about the financing history of the plant. This financing model reflects Myriant’s innovative thinking about the power of public/private partnerships in advancing all-important bio-refinery projects in the US, a model we believe should be replicated not only for its financing merits but because it drives needed economic development and job growth in the U.S.

None of the above straightforward rendition of the news can adequately capture or do justice to the state of the hearts and minds of the Myriant team upon seeing the Lake Providence project through to this pivotal point. Nor can it adequately convey our gratitude to the people of Lake Providence, the plant employees who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to the goal of commercialization, and to those associated with United States Department of Energy (DOE), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Lake Providence Port Commission, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation,  and our investors and financial backers who believe in our science, our technology, and us.

Lastly, if an editorial comment may be indulged, here’s why the collective news from Myriant is so important. The reliability of supply and the proven predictability of technology are crucial elements in building market acceptance, market demand, and ultimately, market share. After Myriant demonstrated it could produce bio-succinic acid on a small scale, the next big question moved to whether or not we could prove it could be done at commercial scale. It’s a good question because, well, making a pound of pasta isn’t the same as making 30 million pounds of pasta. The transition is complex. It poses new and additional challenges. No scientific or technological theory nor any small-scale lab outcome is of great commercial interest if it can’t be scaled. Myriant has now demonstrated it can meet this benchmark and this marks our transition from a company perceived to have potential to a company that is delivering on its promise.

We have more news that not only further demonstrates Myriant can deliver on its overall strategy but that when it comes to carbon efficiency it can be done to amazing levels of environmental efficiency.  In this instance, we’re talking about the recently announced success of Myriant and the UK’s Johnson Matthey – Davy Technologies in the production of market grade, bio-based butanediol (bio-BDO) at a commercially competitive cost level and with superior carbon efficiency. How efficient? This bio-butanediol has an over-all carbon efficiency of 87%, far exceeding the levels achieved in the direct fermentation route to bio-butanediol.

But please don’t overlook the other qualifiers in that previous sentence… market grade and commercially competitive cost. These are qualities now verified by the global leader in bio-BDO as specifically addressed in this statement from Antoine Bordet, Managing Director at Davy Technologies:  “We have provided process technologies based on petroleum feedstocks to the butanediol markets globally for 25 years and understand what it takes to be competitive from a cost and quality point of view. The Davy Technologies butanediol technology, which has undergone significant improvements over the past 10 years, can now be offered with process and performance guarantees to produce commercial grade bio-butanediol, tetrahydrofuran and gamma-butyrolactone equivalent to the petrochemical material that is currently produced in commercial plants that utilize the technology, from Myriant’s bio-succinic acid at a commercially competitive cost level.”

It should be becoming more and more clear that Myriant has the big three in hand: great science, tremendous technology, and a powerful commercialization capability that meets or exceeds demand factors for cost and quality. Now with Johnson Matthey-Davy Technologies providing process and performance guarantees for bio-BDO produced from our bio-succinic acid we have gained immediate entrance into yet another large global market.