🏭 The Column: Apr 19, 2024

Guess who's back?

I was planning on taking two weeks off when I sent The Column out before Christmas, but apparently a 4-month break was in order. Honestly, writing this newsletter had become a monotonous chore, and it felt really good to focus my energy elsewhere.

Long story short: the newsletter is going to be a lot more free-form than it used to be (i.e. I am not committing to a rigid format/structure), and I’m going to start taking 2 one-month-long breaks throughout the year.

Anyways—a lot has happened in the world of chemicals over the last few months. Fortunately (or not so fortunately), progress in this industry is rather… incremental. Let’s get up to speed:

  1. The DOE funded a ton of industrial decarbonization projects, and in the chemicals sector most of the companies on the receiving end were incumbent producers (ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, Eastman, and BASF), not startups. I’ll write an essay about why this makes sense if enough people email me saying that it doesn’t.

  2. Origin Materials is now successfully converting wood into PET precursors at their commercial-scale site. This is huge—the chemical industry has yet to see a successful startup, and one big win would dramatically change investor sentiment for the sector at large.

  3. Solugen broke ground on what will be a 120 KTPA site that converts ADM’s dextrose into organic acids (such as gluconic acid).

  4. Hyosung is licensing Geno’s bio-based butanediol process for a new $1bn plant in China.

  5. Celanese started to capture CO2 at its joint CO2 to methanol site, which they seem to be converting into acetic acid.

  6. Novoloop found a partner to build a pilot plant for its plastic-waste-to-TPU process in India, and they started up a couple of months later.

  7. Covestro started up a bio-based aniline pilot plant in Germany.

  8. Ube is moving forward with its electrolyte solvent plant in Louisiana.

  9. LyondellBasell is licensing its HDPE and PP process to a company in Mongolia (nothing crazy here, I just don’t think I’ve seen Mongolia mentioned in all my years).

  10. The US EPA officially banned the use of chrysotile asbestos, so now the 8 remaining chlor-alkali plants using the material as a separator definitely need to switch over.

  11. SK Capital (a PE firm that likes to buy chemical companies) just raised a new $2.95bn fund.

  12. Exxon and SABIC closed a couple naphtha crackers in Europe because of poor (aka competitive) market conditions.

We’ll get back to regular updates next Friday. Until then, if you or someone you know is interested in working for a startup in the chemicals space, check out General Biological. They’re looking for a strain engineer right now—you can apply here or reach out to Abhi (even if you’re just interested in general).

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