Customised catalyst will allow MEG to be produced from sugar

By: Karen Laird, Plastics News Europe

10 November 2017

While biobased monoethylene glycol – MEG – is not new, the traditional route is through a conversion of sugar cane ethanol to ethylene.  
It has long been realised that going from sugar to MEG, a key component of PET resin, in a single step, should also be possible. In addition to enhancing efficiency, this could to help bring down the extra production costs of biobased MEG, boosting the competitiveness of the process. However, developing the right technology has been a challenge.
Among those working in this area are the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, who are developing a single-step process based on corn sugar, and Avantium, whose Mekong Process has been touted as a “one-1-step, high atom efficiency process which is competitive with the oil based MEG”.
And now, Braskem, the Americas’ leading producer of thermoplastic resins and the producer of the sugar-cane based ethylene from which bio-MEG is currently made, is entering the field, as well.
The company has announced the signing of a technological cooperation agreement Danish-based Haldor Topsoe, a world leader in catalysts and surface science, to develop a pioneering route to produce bio-MEG from sugar.
The agreement calls for the construction of a demonstration plant in Denmark, with operation slated to begin in 2019.
Topsoe will deliver a packaged solution for this project with Braskem, including catalyst and technology. The unit will be flexible to validate the technology in different raw materials such as sucrose, dextrose and second-generation sugars.
The companies will combine their expertise to further develop, test and validate the process and the overall goal of the partnership is the start-up of a commercial plant in 2023.
The project is based on a two-step process developed at Topsoe’s labs along with own catalysts, and focuses on the conversion of sugar into MEG at a single industrial unit.
This proprietary technology, called MOSAIK, allows the cracking of sugars to an intermediary product which can be further converted to monoethylene glycol (MEG) or other chemicals using Haldor Topsoe’s patented processes and catalysts.
“This novel bio-based initiative will allow us to push the renewable chemistry to a whole new level,” said Mateus Lopes, head of Innovation in Renewable Chemicals at Braskem.
Braskem is seeking to expand its portfolio of renewable products to offer new solutions that complement its I’m Green bio-based polyethylene. The company aims to leverage the competitiveness of different biomasses and complement the traditional solutions offered by the petrochemical industry, said Gustavo Sergi, director of Renewable Chemicals at Braskem.
The new partnership will accelerate the development of the MOSAIK solution, which is forming the basis for a growing portfolio of bio-based chemicals produced through patented processes.
 “Catalysis will play an extremely important role in the development of sustainable solutions that produce important chemicals from renewable sources such as sugars,” said Kim Knudsen, Executive Vice President at Haldor Topsoe.
“Our customers in the chemical industry deal with challenging market conditions on a daily basis. We intend to show that chemicals from biomass can be a commercially attractive option, even in a tough, mature market such as thermoplastic resins,” he added.
“And we really look forward to taking the next step together with Braskem.”