BioButterfly: Michelin site to gain prototype bioethanol-based butadiene plant

Michelin, IFPEN, and Axens have announced the construction of an industrial-scale prototype of a plant for producing butadiene from bioethanol. The plant is located in France and is the first facility of its kind.

Setting up this new plant is the latest step in the 2012-launched BioButterfly project, which aims to produce butadiene from ethanol from biomass in order to produce innovative synthetic rubbers that are more environmentally friendly. Around 40 per cent of the more than 12 million tonnes of butadiene consumed each year around the world is used to make tyres, and at present oil is required to produce the compound.

Construction of the industrial prototype will start towards the end of this year and is expected to be completed in late 2020 on Michelin’s site in Bassens, near Bordeaux, where the tyre maker already uses butadiene from petroleum to manufacture synthetic rubbers that go into tyres destined, in particular, for the European market. The BioButterfly project represents a total investment of 70 million euros and will create around twenty jobs on the site.

From a few grams to 100,000 tonnes

After several years of laboratory tests involving the manufacture of a few grams of bioethanol-based butadiene, the industrial prototype must now validate the complete chain of steps in the manufacturing process to prove its technological and economic viability for mass production. This will involve a quantity of between 20 and 30 tonnes a year. This is the last phase before industrial implementation of the process, an annual quantity of 100,000 tonnes, to be marketed by Axens.

The plant will test the use of ethanol from all kinds of biomass, including 2G ethanol (2nd generation, non-competing with food) made from forest or agricultural residues (such as straw and woodchips). It will validate the process developed by IFPEN which will eventually be included in the portfolio of green technologies marketed by Axens. This production pathway will also enable Michelin to better secure its access to butadiene while supporting its goal of sustainable mobility.

This decision gives a new dimension to the BioButterfly project, which is supported by Ademe (the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management) under the Investments for the Future Programme. In a jointly-issued statement, the partners emphasise that it illustrates their willingness “to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint by fostering the development of a bio-sourced synthetic rubber industrial sector and reaffirms their commitment to a new research and innovation sector serving a more sustainable industry.”

“Taking the environmental impact of its activities into consideration is part of the Michelin Group’s identity as a forerunner and leader of sustainable mobility,” states Florent Menegaux, chief executive officer of Michelin. “By 2050, 80 per cent of raw material used in our tyres will be sustainable. We expect bio-butadiene to represent approximately 20 per cent of this objective.”

“IFPEN develops innovative technologies in the field of bio-sourced products and biofuels,” adds Didier Houssin, chairman of IFPEN. “With BioButterfly, our research contributes to creating a new energy transition industrial sector.”

“With this project, Axens, already a worldly recognized provider of technologies for the production of the main petrochemical building blocks, will expand its offer to the market to the bio-sourced chemistry,” says Jean Sentenac, chairman and chief executive officer of Axens.

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