Tuesday, 15 February 2011

LANXESS invests for green rubber

German polymer and rubber specialist LANXESS moved this week to strengthen its commitment to sourcing non-petrochemical feedstocks for its synthetic rubber business by increasing its stake in US biotech startup Gevo. After investing a total of $27m, it now holds a 9.1% stake in the Colorado firm, which is developing a route to isobutanol from fermentable sugars derived from corn.

Gevo facility for isobutanol
LANXESS has signed a 10-year supply agreement with Gevo for its bio-isobutanol, which LANXESS will dehydrate and turn into isobutene, which it uses as a key ingredient in the manufacture of butyl rubber. It has already successfully trialed the process in a pilot facility in Leverkusen, Germany

The move is part of LANXESS's strategy of sharpening its focus on green chemistry, says CEO Axel Heitmann. It also targets sustainable production, which Heitman expects "to gain in significance in coming years".

The company has recently refocused its innovation effort, to concentrate on a number of mega-trends and to establish a central innovation group to coordinate innovation across business units. You can read all about this in my interview with Werner Breuers, LANXESS board member, carried out as part of the ICIS Innovation Awards 2010 coverage.

Gevo is currently retrofitting an ethanol facility to produce 50,000 tonnes/year of isobutanol at Luveme, Minnesota, scheduled for start-up in the first half of next year. It aims to have a capacity of 1m tonne/year by 2015 through acquisitions and joint ventures. Isobutanol can also be used as a gasoline and jet fuel blendstock as well as for making plastics, fibres and rubber.

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