"In 10 years I would like to see Verdezyne making chemicals at multiple plants in places around the world, not just Malaysia, so we can service customers that are important closer to the plant that they serve."
Verdezyne is a technology company that uses nature to reduce the world’s reliance on oil. The company does this by using a fermentation process that enables it to use a variety of plant-based oils and their by-products. Verdezyne’s Vice President of Research and Development speaks to Dave Songer for this week’s 5 minutes with… about the huge investment Verdezyne is making in Malaysia, its ambitions and how it developed a world first.
Dave Songer (DS): Hi Tom, you’ve been with Verdezyne for 10 years now; what first inspired you to work in the industry?
Tom Beardslee (TB): Well, I’d say I’ve been interested in the principles of green chemistry ever since I was a high school teacher many years ago. Being a teacher of chemistry, you’re always trying to inspire where you can and teaching students about how we can do things a better way was always a big thing for me. So, working for a company that aims to replace petrochemicals with more sustainable ways of producing those chemicals was a big draw for me.
(DS): What do you enjoy most about your role?
(TB): I would have to say the people that I work with. They’re a great team of scientists at Verdezyne (@Verdezyne) that cover many different disciplines, from molecular biology and genetics all the way to chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and communication sciences, exposing me to an array of very different sciences and employing that science in what I think is a very important aspect of trying to promote the bio-based economy.
(DS): What advice would you give someone looking to get started in the bio-based industry?
(TB): I would advise them to be realistic because what we’re doing is difficult. It’s tough to replace petrochemical technology – that in some instances has been in place for close to 100 years – with a bio-based option. All the efficiencies have been worked out and the petrochemical industry is pretty good at making it very economical. So that’s that challenge: trying to overtake a very mature process within a time frame that only gives you four or five years to develop it. That’s a big factor for a small company if they don’t want to run out of money.
(DS): What projects is Verdezyne currently working on, can you provide some details?
(TB): The main project that we have underway is our VerdePalm project in Malaysia: our first commercial facility. It’s currently under construction and should be complete in the third quarter of 2018. With a capacity of six kilo-tonnes, it will produce the chemical dodecanedioic acid (DDDA) – the first commercial facility in the world to produce renewable bio-based DDDA, which is the chemical that’s used to produce nylon coatings and corrosion inhibitors.
That’s our main project but another we’ve launched is our first commercial product: FerroShield, which is a mix of diacids that we’re producing via a toll producer that are used as a corrosion inhibitor in metal working fluids. It’s an important product for industry and it’s important for us to have our first product for sale, as it demonstrates to customers that we can sell a product and deliver it.
(DS): What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
(TB): VerdePalm is definitely a big challenge. Building something that costs tens-of-millions-of-dollars on the other side of the world, while negotiating with those financing it and the engineering firms providing the work, is quite a process.
(DS): Where would you like to see Verdezyne in ten years’ time?
(TB): VerdePalm will definitely have a big impact on the company. It will change the kind of company we are – from a technology company to a chemical provider. In 10 years I would like to see Verdezyne making chemicals at multiple plants in places around the world, not just Malaysia, so we can service customers that are important closer to the plant that they serve.
It could also serve as a blueprint for other facilities and other products that are in our R&D pipeline. We definitely don’t want to be a one-trick pony making just one chemical and we have a number of projects which we’re aiming to commercialise.
(DS): What is your favourite bio-based product and why?
(TB): This may be a little funny to some, but I would have to say the little bit of nylon 6,6 yarn that I carry around with me. This was the very first nylon 6,6 that had bio-based content. The adibic acid used in it was made here at Verdezyne, is made from completely renewable feed stocks and was one of the first demonstrations we had that showed bio-based technology could actually work. It’s important to have a product in your hand, and I carry that with me not only as a show and tell for wherever I go, but also as a reminder why we do what we do.
(DS): Finally, (without giving too much away!…) what are you planning to cover during your talk at Bio-Based Live Americas in San Diego this month?
(TB): We’ll definitely talk about the VerdePalm project and provide updates on its construction. Work began around February this year, with the official ground-breaking ceremony five months later in July, a well-attended event that attracted a couple of hundred dignitaries. I might also talk about some of our projects that are coming up, focusing a lot of DDDA acid replacing petrochemicals with bio-based options. We’ll also cover other products such as human nutrition and animal feed markets, which have advanced rapidly through our R&D and process development that we’re looking to commercialise.
(DS): Thanks Tom, the Bio-Based World News team looks forward to catching up with you at this year’s conference.
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