Campus News

UGA signs licensing deal with European Company

University of Georgia signs licensing deal with European company for a building block of hundreds of industrial and household products

Athens, Ga. – Roquette, one of Europe’s largest producers of plant-based commodity and specialty chemicals, has signed a licensing agreement with the University of Georgia Research Foundation for production and sales of succinic acid, a biochemical that is the basis for hundreds of industrial and household products, and its salts. The technology was developed by University of Georgia scientists.

“The bio-succinic acid project is part of our global strategy to develop vegetal-based chemistry. The technology provided by UGA is a key element to succeed in the large production of this new bio-based building block,” said Christophe Rupp-Dahlem, Roquette director of programs.

Roquette has obtained the right to use the technology for large-scale production of succinic acid in dedicated manufacturing plants. A demonstration plant is expected to be operational by the end of 2009, and multi-ton production is expected to start in 2010.

“Until now, bio-based succinic acid was not economically competitive with petrochemical-based succinic acid,” said Mark Eiteman, UGA professor of engineering, who invented the technology with research colleague Elliot Altman and graduate student Ravi Gokarn. “We now have a way to direct more of the starting material, simple sugars, into succinic acid with minimal by-products.”

Succinic acid is a platform molecule that can be converted cost-effectively into pharmaceuticals, plastics, personal products, polymers, clothing fibers and solvents. The new technology uses micro-organisms to transform glucose extracted from readily available starches derived from plants, such as corn and wheat, into succinic acid. It is currently produced from butane, a volatile petrochemical.

Roquette ranks among the world’s leading producers of chemicals derived from starch and is the leader in manufacturing polyols, an ingredient used in products as diverse as polyurethane products, such as the foam used for cushioning in furniture, and sugar-free sweeteners. With production facilities in Europe, the U.S. and Asia, and distribution agents in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, the company markets products derived from agricultural materials in more than 100 countries. Roquette employs more than 6,000 people worldwide.

“From economic and environmental perspectives, naturally derived succinic acid has major advantages for industry and consumers,” said co-inventor Altman, also a UGA professor of engineering. “Not only does our microbial process use a low-cost renewable resource and require less energy, but the process actually consumes, rather than produces, carbon dioxide. Its net impact is to improve the sustainability of natural resources, environmental quality and national security, while competing economically.”

The potential positive impact of bio-succinate extends to derivative products as well, said Gennaro Gama, senior technology manager. “For instance, succinate esters are considered viable alternatives to ozone-depleting, chlorine-based solvents. Sodium succinate is a viable alternative to toxic glycols used as anti-freeze agents.”

“We are pleased with this license agreement as a reflection of our ongoing global commercialization efforts,” said Sohail Malik, director of UGA’s technology commercialization office.