Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



The purpose of this project is to develop a pilot-scale process for the bacterial production of methacrylic acid (MAA) and methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) from biomass feedstocks and the subsequent purification steps. The pilot plant will also be located on site at a sugar cane refinery in Brazil where the feedstock should be inexpensive and readily available. Although these sugar cane refineries only operate for 9 months each year, molasses can be stored so that the pilot plant runs year-round.

To obtain useful information about the feasibility and scalability of the process, 30 M kg/yr of each product will be produced. The products will be tested for purity and samples will be sent out to consumers to demonstrate the quality of the product. The MAA and MEK must be of the same purity generated by current commercial processes. The pilot plant will be designed in three major parts. The first part consists of the bacterial fermentors that are used to produce and scale up MAA and MEK production. Relatively little is currently known about the efficiency of production of MAA and MEK by E. coli and this part of the plant will provide critical data about conditions required for the bacteria as well as production rates. The second part of the plant consists of the MAA purification process. Many options will be considered for the purification steps, many of which will have to be modeled in ASPEN because MAA is usually not produced in the aqueous phase. The final section of the plant will be used for MEK purification. To reduce plant costs, the design will try to share equipment between the two purification processes.

The main goal of the plant is to obtain data and demonstrate feasibility, not to demonstrate sustainable profitability. Estimates for total capital investment and show that the plant will not be profitable for the first five years of operation, but the valuable data gained from the operation will be used to design the larger, more efficient, full-scale plant. The total capital investment required for the plant is approximately $ 6.33 million. Returns generated from sales are minimal compared to the capital investment and operating costs. A full scale plant is expected to be profitable over time because of economies of scale and the price of inputs and outputs of the process.



Date Posted: 24 July 2012