Sarnia-based BioAmber exploring process to make nylon from sugar

The BioAmber plant on Vidal Street opened in 2015. Glenn Ogilvie file photo

Troy Shantz

Sarnia-based BioAmber is partnering up on a sweet way to make nylon.

The company is collaborating with the University of Toronto on a $5.7 million research project to convert sugar into adipic acid, which is a building block of the silky material.

“The partnership with BioAmber is really crucial for us,” said Dr. Radhakrishnan Mahadevan, head of the university’s BioZone group.

“They can do this at large scale, so that means they’re a great partner.”

Funding is coming from Ontario, the federal government through Genome Canada and BioAmber.

Nylon is currently made from petroleum, and while the process works well it is not environmentally friendly.

BioAmber has developed a successful way to turn corn syrup into succinic acid, which is used in everything from plastics to paint and food to footwear.

Using its patented technology to produce the building blocks for nylon could create a second product line for the company.

Mahadevan said BioZone’s experimental process for producing adipic acid has been in development for five years and is similar to what BioAmber has already perfected.

He said the goal is to turn a current small-scale reactor into a 1,000-litre reactor within three years, making the process ready for a pilot plant somewhere.

“The important thing is that BioAmber has gone through that sequence. They know what it takes to scale up,” said Mahadevan.

He said his team’s process is cleaner and would use less energy than oil-based manufacturing.

Unlike traditional petrochemical plants, BioAmber’s $135-million manufacturing facility on Vidal Street doesn’t have a flare stack and uses less energy without greenhouse gas emissions.

As a biotech company that has already reached industrial scale, BioAmber is positioned to apply the results of the research program to developing the next generation chemicals, Genome Canada said.