A partnership that aims to produce a key industrial component from renewable raw materials instead of crude oil has hit a key milestone – production of the biochemical at pilot scale.

Novozymes, BASF and Cargill entered a partnership to work on the project last August. The goal is to develop a completely bio-based alternative to acrylic acid, a chemical used in a wide range of products but currently derived from the refining of crude oil.

The partners are developing 3-hydroxypropionic acid, or 3-HP, a renewable-based building block that the companies say could be a precursor to acrylic acid. A bio-based acrylic acid could lead to superabsorbent polymers that can soak up large amounts of liquid and could be used in baby diapers and other hygiene products.

“We still have a fair amount of work to do before the process is commercially ready, but this is a significant milestone and we are confident we can continue to the next level of scale-up for the entire process in 2014,” Teressa Szelest, senior vice president of BASF’s Global Hygiene Business said in a statement.

German chemical company BASF’s agricultural subsidiary, BASF Plant Science, is based in Research Triangle Park. Danish enzymes giant Novozymes operates its North American headquarters in Franklinton.