Global Bioenergies was founded in 2008 jointly by Marc Delcourt, a biotechnologies entrepreneur, and Philippe Marlière, the program’s creator. The company developed in several stages.
Stage 1 – Proof of concept
To begin with, Global Bioenergies successfully set up a laboratory-scale prototype to provide proof of concept for its technology.
The Company also laid the foundations for its intellectual property, and it now holds exclusive rights to a constantly growing patent portfolio.
Stage 2 – Laboratory development
Secondly, after its IPO on the Alternext market, the Company refined its process on a laboratory scale. To this day, it continues to make performance improvements.
Stage 3 – Industrialization
Stage 3, which began when €23 million in funds were raised in mid-2013, was devoted to industrialization. An industrial pilot with an isobutene production capacity of 10 tonnes p.a. was set up at the Pomacle-Bazancourt agro-industrial site close to Reims.
BioMA+ Program: collaboration agreement with Arkema and the CNRS. Started up in October 2013 for three years. €5.2 million in government funding (Investissements d’Avenir program), with Global Bioenergies obtaining €4.0 million. The objective is to establish a new process for converting sugar into isobutene and then methacrylic acid, a key ingredient in acrylic paint.
The process at the pilot plant, which became fully operational in early 2015, has already been refined for an industrial environment, having been scaled up by a factor of ten from the laboratory. Initial batches of isobutene have now been shipped to Arkema in pressurized containers.
An industrial-scale demonstrator with an isobutene production capacity of 100 tonnes p.a. is currently being built at the Leuna refinery in Germany and is scheduled for start-up in 2016.
It has been financed by a €5.7 million subsidy from the German government and a €4.4 million loan from a consortium of French banks. This demonstrator represents the final stage in industrialization of the isobutene process.
Stage 4 – Commercialization
The fourth stage – launching the technology in the marketplace – is only just beginning. The plan to set up the first full-scale plant in France is already starting to come together. Global Bioenergies and Cristal Union, France’s number two sugar manufacturer, formed a 50/50 joint venture in May 2015.
IBN-One has obtained a license from Global Bioenergies to use the isobutene process for production of up to 50,000 tonnes p.a. IBN-One gradually aims to raise the funds it needs for engineering work and construction of the facility. The chemicals and fuel sectors, as well as public-sector authorities, will also play a role in helping IBN-One to establish itself.
In Europe and the United States, the tax incentives for biofuels would enable it to achieve profitability at a first few plants at oil prices above $50 per barrel.
Secondly, several dozen plants each producing 50,000 to 200,000 tonnes of isobutene, butadiene or propylene would then be operated profitably in the plastics and rubbers market. An oil price of at least $85 per barrel would be needed for these ventures. These plants will drive Global Bioenergies’ growth, as it will receive milestone payments and royalties from each of them. The facilities to be located in rural areas will each create around 50 direct jobs, which cannot be relocated abroad.
In the longer term, once peak oil has been reached and oil prices have risen above $150 per barrel, the isobutene process may become indispensable.
Isooctane, produced by condensing two isobutene compounds, is the gold standard and can be mixed with fossil-based gasoline, without any blending ratio restrictions or any alteration of properties.
Production of drop-in fuels has raised the prospect that existing infrastructure can be maintained once fossil oil runs out and dispenses with the need to set up additional storage, transportation and distribution infrastructure. A decentralized and greener new world will gradually take shape.
The German car manufacturer Audi has already endorsed this vision.
If it comes to fruition, Global Bioenergies’ isobutene process may be used in hundreds, if not thousands of plants that will radically transform the global industrial landscape.