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CropEnergies to enter biochemicals with ethyl acetate plant investment

CropEnergies to enter biochemicals with ethyl acetate plant investment
Opened in 2005, CropEnergies' ethanol plant in Zeitz, Germany produces up to 400 000 m3 of ethanol per annum from grain (photo courtesy Martin Jehnichen).

Germany-headed ethanol producer, CropEnergies AG, has announced that it will go ahead and build a plant for the production of renewable ethyl acetate from sustainable ethanol. The supervisory board of CropEnergies has given the green light to the investment into what will be the first production plant in the new biobased chemicals business.

According to a statement, the total investment for the new production facility, which is “foreseen” to be built at the Zeitz Chemical and Industrial Park, Elsteraue, Germany, will be between EUR 120 and EUR 130 million and will be paid from the existing cash position.

CropEnergies is currently engaged in detailed construction engineering, and groundbreaking is to take place early in 2024 with the commissioning scheduled latest for summer 2025.

Diversification strategy

Part of the Südzucker Group, CropEnergies is a leading European producer of renewable ethanol. With a production capacity of 1.3 million m3 of ethanol per annum, CropEnergies produces neutral alcohol as well as technical alcohol (ethanol) for a wide range of applications at locations in Germany, Belgium, the UK, and France.

The announcement marks the next step in CropEnergies’ diversification process into new markets in addition to the mobility sector. Previously this year, the company had announced its participation in several start-ups to achieve this goal.

These business ventures include the production of renewable ethanol from wastes and residues, solar power as well as other bioenergy ventures.

I am very happy that we are now moving on to the next phase of building our new production site and delivering on the promise we made with our strategy for the transformation of CropEnergies into a supplier of innovative, sustainable products made out of biomass. This is indeed one of the challenges we face today: To make the products we use more sustainable. And one way to do this is to defossilize the raw materials for those products, said Dr Stephan Meeder, CEO of CropEnergies.

CropEnergies’ renewable ethyl acetate is a sustainable alternative to fossil products and significantly reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The project aims to be profitable within two to three years after commissioning.

We have set ourselves a target of reaching a ROCE of at least 15 percent for the project, Dr Stephan Meeder added.

Parent company Südzucker AG’s supervisory board has also approved this project. This demonstrates the full support for CropEnergies’ strategy which is fully aligned with the “biobased chemicals” angle of the Südzucker Group Strategy 2026 PLUS.

First-of-its-kind plant

The new production plant, which will be the first of its kind in Europe, will produce 50 000 tonnes of renewable ethyl acetate per year from sustainable ethanol using renewable energy for the process.

Dr. Stephan Meeder, CEO, and CFO at CropEnergies AG (photo courtesy CropEnergies).

Ethyl acetate is widely used in the production of flexible packaging and coatings, paints, and adhesives, as well as in food, beverage, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical applications.

Currently, ethyl acetate is produced mainly from fossil resources. In addition to significantly lowering the fossil carbon footprint of products made from it, CropEnergies’ renewable ethyl acetate produced in Germany also offers customers the opportunity to source locally in Europe, providing greater security of supply.

According to CropEnergies, discussions with future customers show that there is great interest in this new, sustainable product. A production site in the Zeitz region will also contribute to additional added value in the Burgenlandkreis region and create approximately 50 jobs for highly skilled employees.

Possible PtX addition

In addition to ethyl acetate, the plant will also generate renewable hydrogen as a co-product. Together with biogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) from the CropEnergies fermentation process, this can be the basis for further conversion of renewable energy into power-to-X (PtX) downstream routes, to produce, for example, electro-fuels (eFuels).

The facility will use the production technology from UK’s Johnson Matthey, which minimizes carbon dioxide emissions and produces ethyl acetate widely regarded as having the highest product quality on the market.

The engineering partner for the construction of the plant will be Belgium-headed De Smet Engineers & Contractors.

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