Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



Acrylic acid is an important industrial chemical, used as a raw material in a wide variety of consumer end products. The present predominant source of acrylic acid is from the partial oxygenation of propene, produced as a by-product in the industrial production of ethylene and gasoline. Both processes depend heavily on the processing of petrochemicals as the base raw material. The purpose of this process is to produce acrylic acid from renewable carbon sources (such as corn or sugarcane) in an economically preferential manner. Our process has used genetically recombinant Escherichia coli (E. coli) to ferment the carbohydrate content of the proposed feedstock to 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP) which is then dehydrated in the presence of strong acid catalyst (phosphoric acid) to form acrylic acid. The acrylic acid is then purified to the standard required for use as a polymer raw material (99.98% by mass) with total capacity of 160,000 MT/year of product.

This design analyzes two proposed locations, the US Midwest or Brazil, and their associated renewable feedstocks, corn or sugarcane juice, respectively. This report investigates the relative economic attractiveness of each option. The US case requires location near an existing industrial ethanol fermentation plant to give easy access to dry-ground corn as a carbohydrate source. This case yields an IRR of 17.56% and an overall NPV of $35.2 million at a 15% discount rate. The Brazil case has comparatively cheaper feedstock, however because of seasonality and total usable carbohydrate content, it requires a greater mass of feedstock and increased capital investment relative to the US case. The NPV difference of the two cases is extremely sensitive to the assumed price of sugarcane juice which has recently shown extraordinary volatility. Based on this analysis, the US location seems most promising; however, detailed laboratory level studies are needed to confirm the profitability and assumptions made.



Date Posted: 20 August 2012