GERMAN speciality chemicals company Lanxess is investing more in new technology to produce synthetic
rubber from bio-based raw materials. From producing isobutene from renewable resources, it has now
increased its minority shareholding in US-based renewable chemical company Gevo.
Lanxess initially invested US$10 million in Gevo last year and now has increased its stake with a US$17 million investment in a public flotation, bringing its ownership to 9.1%.
Isobutene, which is used to produce butyl rubber, is conventionally produced in steam crackers that use various petrochemical-based materials as feedstock. Gevo is developing a fermentation process
to produce the organic compound isobutanol from the fermentable sugars in biomass, starting with corn.
At the same time, Lanxess is developing a dehydration process to convert isobutanol into isobutene.
In addition to the share deal, both companies have signed an agreement that gives Lanxess certain exclusive rights to purchase bio-based isobutanol from Gevo, while Gevo receives an exclusive first right to supply Lanxess with specified quantities of bio-based isobutanol over a ten-year period. Details
of the arrangement are still to be worked out. Gevo’s isobutanol can also be used directly as
a speciality chemical, blended into petrol, used as a jet feedstock and converted into plastics, fibres and other polymers. Gevo is currently retrofitting its first ethanol facility to produce 50,000 tonnes
of isobutanol in the first half of 2012. It also plans to expand its production capacity in the coming years through acquisitions and joint ventures to have more than 1 million tonnes of capacity by 2015.
Lanxess’s dehydration process has progressed to small-scale reactor level at Leverkusen in Germany over a period of several months. The company says that tests have shown that the process can deliver bio-based butyl rubber that meets the tyre industry’s specifications, an industry that represents 25% of Lanxess’s sales.