• Open Access

Succinic acid production derived from carbohydrates: An energy and greenhouse gas assessment of a platform chemical toward a bio-based economy



Bio-based succinic acid has the potential to become a platform chemical, i.e. a key building block for deriving both commodity and high-value chemicals, which makes it an attractive compound in a bio-based economy. A few companies and industrial consortia have begun to develop its industrial production on a large scale. A life cycle assessment of different bio-based succinic acid production processes, based on dextrose from corn, was performed to investigate their non-renewable energy use (NREU) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, from cradle-to-factory gate in Europe. Three processes were studied, i.e. (i) low pH yeast fermentation with downstream processing (DSP) by direct crystallization, (ii) anaerobic fermentation to succinate salt at neutral pH (pH7) and subsequent DSP by electrodialysis, and (iii) a similar process producing ammonium sulfate as co-product in DSP. These processes are compared to the production of petrochemical maleic anhydride, succinic acid, and adipic acid. Low pH yeast fermentation to succinic acid with direct crystallization was found to have significantly lower GHG emissions and NREU, compared to other fermentation routes and three petrochemical routes. However, the disparity in GHG emissions between this process and the electrodialysis process becomes less prominent if one considers a cleaner electricity mix than the current European production mix. Moreover, this study highlights that the allocation approach in corn wet milling and the succinic acid plant location strongly influence the results. Overall, the results suggest that low pH yeast fermentation with direct crystallization is the most beneficial process to bio-based succinic acid from an environmental perspective. © 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd