Biobased itaconic acid market and research trends – is it really a promising chemical?
Itaconic acid is a versatile biobased monomer with active research, and a modest market. Despite high hopes for its production in large volumes, in the beginning of this century, nowadays the acid production is around 40,000 tons/year and is projected to reach 52,000 tons/year in 2025, with sales around U$D 100 million/year. However, there is potential for development of this market with new insights for derivation of itaconic acid into classical monomers or even drop-in technologies. The market could reach about 170,000 tons/year in 2025, with 260 million dollars in sales (at U$D 1,500/ton), if the specialty polymers demand increases. The economy of scale, if this demand grows, could force a price reduction to the point that IA might be cheaper than several similar monomers. With its biobased appeal – there is no other natural unsaturated monomer that can be so easily produced by fermentation – and the slow transition of the ethanol industry to value-added biobased building blocks, IA tends to gain market in the near future. Currently, it is a prospective biomonomer waiting for market development.
Itaconic acid is an unsaturated organic diacid, produced by fermentation of sugars. The most important genera of producer microorganisms are Ustilago, Pseudozyma, and especially, Aspergillus. It is used as a co-monomer in synthetic latexes (styrene-butadiene and nitrile), as a plasticizer, and for specialty monomers. IA fermentation is an 100 years old technology (1), but not popular until recently because of the low competitivity of itaconic acid with synthetic monomers derived from oil, such as acrylic, maleic and fumaric acids. With the tendency of developing integrated, sustainable processes in a circular economy, the interest in the bioproduction of IA has increased since the 80s. The acid can be produced with theoretical yields of 72% from glucose and 87% from xylose, in processes reaching final concentrations around 86-129 g/L, with productivities of 0.5-1.14 g/L.h (with glucose) (2)(3). It is a commercial product (in terms of technology), with a market price around U$1650/ton, but it is in a preliminary stage as platform chemical, with a market around 40,000tons/year. We briefly summarize information about the present ...