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Bouncing from sugar cane to synthetic rubber

Genomatica says it has made butadiene, used in production of products such as tires and latex, from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels.

A picture of Genomatica's process for fermenting sugar into industrial chemicals.
A picture of Genomatica's process for fermenting sugar into industrial chemicals.

Genomatica said today it has successfully produced butadiene, following the trend of many biofuel and biotech start-ups pushing into industrial chemicals.

The company said that it has made enough butadiene from renewable feedstocks, such as sugar cane, to demonstrate the viability of the process. Genomatica's first chemical process is converting sugar cane into a chemical called BDO, which is used to make automotive plastics, running shoes, and spandex fabric.

Butadiene is used as an ingredient in making latex and synthetic rubber for products such as tires. The prices of butadiene have risen over the past few months, which is one reason why Genomatica has developed a process for it.

The company's technology is to use engineered bacteria to convert sugars from plants into different chemicals. It also has software tools to help speed discovery of ways of engineering e.coli bacteria to make a desired product.

Genomatica has always focused on industrial chemicals, but many biofuel companies are finding that making bio-chemicals from renewable feedstocks is their best route to get a commercial foothold. Chemicals used in everyday products, such as synthetic rubber or plastics, are also made from oil but they can command higher prices than gasoline and diesel.

Genomatica now has a demonstration facility for production of BDO and plans to start making it at commercial scale by the end of next year.