Did you know that when you cook your favourite dishes, the flavourings you use to enrich the taste often contain biosuccinic acid (SA)? In wine and soft drinks, SA helps reduce acidity; as an ingredient in cosmetics and creams, it is a skin softener.

Striding toward sustainability

Historically, SA has been made from fossil fuels. However, a green solution developed by BioAmber is changing the industry worldwide. At the company's 100,000 sq. ft. Sarnia-Lambton plant, SA is produced with sugar from renewable feedstocks, such as corn. This game-changing disruptive technology not only produces SA as a sustainable chemical, but also eliminates greenhouse gas emissions and consumes much less energy than petroleum-based production.

An image depicting glucose – feedstock for the production of succinic acid – arriving at the BioAmber plant in Sarnia, Ontario in cylindrical trucks.
Glucose (feedstock for the production of succinic acid) arrives at the BioAmber plant in Sarnia, Ontario.

"BioAmber uses industrial biotechnology to convert sugar into SA — a building-block chemical used to make plastics, resins, paints, textiles, synthetic leather and personal care products," says Mike Hartmann, the firm's Executive Vice-President. BioAmber's bio-based succinic acid is indistinguishable from the petroleum-derived chemical.

In a 2004 report, the U.S. Department of Energy identified 12 chemicals that could be produced from sugars instead of petroleum — and SA was at the top of the list. In the multi-billion-dollar markets for SA and their derivatives, U.S.-based BioAmber, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is at the forefront of biobased chemicals.

From Ontario to the world

An image depicting that succinic acid is checked in a quality control lab to ensure it conforms to specifications.
Succinic acid is checked in the quality control lab to ensure it conforms to specifications.

To meet rapidly rising global demand for SA and its derivatives, BioAmber plans to build additional manufacturing plants across North America. The first, which opened in late 2015 in Ontario's Sarnia-Lambton area, is a joint venture with Japan's Mitsui & Co., Ltd. It produces more than 30,000 tonnes of SA annually, of which 95% is exported to the U.S., Europe and Asia.

According to Hartmann, building the US$140-million plant in the Sarnia-Lambton "chemical valley" made good business sense. "It has easy access to glucose from feedstocks, a highly skilled workforce, trained college and university graduates, and a sophisticated, cost-competitive industrial infrastructure," he notes. "Factors such as these combined with a warm welcome from the community and strong support from both provincial and federal governments made the choice an obvious one."

One of the plant's more than 100 customers is Bayer MaterialScience, which has launched an innovative line of bio-based materials for textiles used in the footwear, sportswear, automotive and apparel industries. Replacing petrochemicals with BioAmber's SA means these eco-friendly products offer excellent performance and up to 65% renewable content.

Future perfect innovation

Disruptive technologies create new value, new markets and new operating parameters. BioAmber's technology works with renewable feedstocks, emits 100% less greenhouse gas than conventional oil-based production processes, and consumes 64% less electricity. One of the company's strengths is that SA has limited exposure to volatile oil prices.

Growing consumer demand for food and beverage products with reduced sugars leaves corn surpluses in the fields. Producing SA with corn sugar puts excess corn to profitable use and creates new markets for agricultural commodities.

By all accounts, Ontario is a healthy place to do business and succeed. "We are impressed with the province's strong support for growing the bioeconomy," concludes Hartmann. "Since we started working with the Government of Ontario in 2011, we have had support and partnership in every sense of the word." All signs point to a sustainable future for the world's largest manufacturer of SA in Sarnia, Ontario.

We're excited that our renewable chemicals made from sugars are making everyday applications around the world more sustainable. We believe our disruptive biotechnology is going to profitably deliver benefits for the environment, our customers, our shareholders and the Sarnia Lambton community.

—Jean-François Huc, CEO, BioAmber
An image depicting a bag of BioAmber's final product, biosuccinic acid (SA).
Figure 1 The finished product – biosuccinic acid (SA).

Watch BioAmber's Sarnia manufacturing facility get built! This the world's largest bio-succinic acid (SA) production plant in the world.

Disclaimer: this video links to a third party source. This video is not hosted by the Government of Ontario and there may not be a French version or transcripts available.

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