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At the HELM of the bio-based chemical ship.

Christian Stammerjohann, head of department at HELM

The need to reduce fossil fuel dependence on the chemical industry has led to the emergence of bio-based alternative products. Given their expected limited environmental footprint in comparison to their traditional counterparts, bio-based chemicals have emerged in many global markets as valid, environmentally-friendly alternatives to standard chemicals. In fact, more and more stakeholders are working together intensively to develop more sustainable chemicals.

Global chemicals distributor HELM is one such company working on the latter and has signed a bio-based ethyl acetate offtake deal with US technology provider Greenyug’s subsidiary Prairie Catalytic. The product will be marketed under the brand name “Prairie Green” globally.

Bio Market Insights’ Liz Gyekye down with Christian Stammerjohann, head of department at HELM, to find out more about the company’s move to promote bio-based chemicals.

Liz Gyekye (LG): Who is HELM?

Christian Stammerjohann (CS): HELM AG is a family-owned company based in Hamburg, Germany, with a business tradition more than 118 years old. As a multifunctional sales and distribution organisation, HELM is active in the chemicals industry through its Feedstocks and Derivatives business units. Our company has established itself firmly as a partner to industry and operates as a bridge between the manufacturing and processing industries. As a service provider, we successfully carry out international marketing, distribution, logistics, production, project development and scientific services. This wide range of services combined with its global presence, diverse range of products, interests in production facilities and global logistical capacities make HELM a company that meets the needs and requirements of suppliers and customers perfectly every time.

LG: Can you tell me a bit about HELM’s partnership with Prairie Catalytic? Why were you selected to distribute Prairie Catalytic’s product?

CS: Prairie Catalytic uses local-agriculturally derived bio-ethanol from corn in the US to produce ethyl acetate. The starting production plant in Nebraska, US, is the largest bio-chemical project in the world and has a capacity of 50,000 MT per year. As mentioned, our company is “building bridges” in the chemicals industry and is connecting producers with consumers through an extensive distribution network and profound expertise in chemical commodity marketing globally. In these disciplines, Prairie Catalytic was looking for support and chose to partner with HELM. This is because we give Prairie Catalytic immediate access to a broad customer base and are experienced in large-scale supply chains. However, particularly for this project, we can perfectly combine our expertise in commodities with the marketing of a specialty.

LG: Where do you see the bio-based ethyl acetate market going in the next five years?

CS: Drop-in replacements of conventional chemicals will become more and more relevant as production technology and capacity scale is increasing rapidly. We do not see all basic chemicals to be replaced by bio alternatives but in the case of ethyl acetate there is proof already. Replacing ethyl acetate with a green alternative goes hand in hand with the reduction of the carbon footprint in the supply chain and has the potential to generate tangible benefits for the consuming industry. Once more customers realise there is a workable sustainable alternative, we will support them to change formulations for a higher share of renewable chemistry in the final product. Therefore, bio-based ethyl acetate has a market potential that is not even limited to the existing ethyl acetate market size.

LG: What markets do you supply to?

CS: The plant is located in Nebraska, US. Therefore, the US will be the natural home market for bio-based ethyl acetate. HELM is active in marketing conventional ethyl acetate in Europe and Asia as well and will be able to support customer demands in all markets. That puts Latin America and Europe into the scope but there will be customers in countries all over the world served by our global sales organisation with more than 100 subsidiaries in more than 30 countries.

LG: Are there certain countries demanding more of bio-based ethyl acetate than others? If so, which ones?

CS: In that respect we can divide the market into regions which are Asia, Americas and Europe. While Europe and European customers are well advanced in sustainability initiatives, the feedback received from all industries has been positive without exception.

Also, in Asia we see good progress in the overall attitude towards sustainable chemicals especially in Japan and Korea. Finally, for the US and neighbouring markets, the local production of bio ethyl acetate is receiving even more attention. A renewable product benefiting local agricultural development and decreasing carbon footprint is a project all major consumers are interested in.

LG: Which applications do bio-based ethyl acetate go in?

CS: Bio-based ethyl acetate is chemically identical to conventional ethyl acetate. That means it is possible to be used for the same applications as conventional ethyl acetate.

These are paint and coatings, adhesives, cosmetics and as a processing chemical in pharmaceutical products. In fact, bio-based ethyl acetate may also replace other solvents in existing formulations due to a lower carbon footprint for the final product.

LG: Will you put more of a focus on marketing bio-based ethyl acetate than ethyl acetate?

CS: We will separate the marketing of bio ethyl acetate and conventional ethyl acetate for the reasons stated above. HELM has a strategic interest in serving customer needs for ethyl acetate and developing the global markets. We strongly believe that bio-based ethyl acetate will be an essential part of this development looking into the future of the solvent industry. Additional efforts for marketing, documentation and development will be tackled with the experienced product management team for ethyl acetate in HELM’s global set-up.

LG: And finally have you come across any difficulties or challenges marketing this product?

CS: We are receiving positive feedback for the project and are awaiting the start-up of the production plant mid-2019. The first commercially available bio-based ethyl acetate from Prairie Catalytic’s production enables us to present samples to the customer and prove that bio-based ethyl acetate is a drop-in replacement for ethyl acetate including decreased carbon footprint in the product lifecycle.

LG: Great, thanks for the time. We’ll be sure to keep our readers up to date with the latest developments.


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Read: Leaders interview: Frederik Feddes, Vice President, Biochemicals, Corbion.

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