US bio-refiner ZeaChem makes market-purity acetic acid – VIDEO

17 February 2010 00:21  [Source: ICIS news]

ORLANDO, Florida (ICIS news)--US bio-refiner ZeaChem announced on Tuesday that it has produced its first test batch of bio-based acetic acid at a marketable purity level, opening the door to eventual commercial production that would reduce risk from exposure to ethanol.

"You don't want to have a one-trick pony when you don't know where the world will go," president and CEO Jim Imbler told the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Florida.

The same strategy of reducing risk through diversification applies to feedstocks as well, Imbler said.

Colorado-based ZeaChem is eyeing acetic acid and related product ethyl acetate both as a commercial products in the own right as well as building blocks in ethanol production.

The company uses a front-end fermentation process using an acetogen, which is a naturally occurring organism found in termites and cockroaches.

The acetic acid concentration it has achieved is highly pure, known as glacial acetic acid.

"ZeaChem has taken a big step toward producing high yield, economical and sustainable cellulosic ethanol and chemicals," Imbler said (see video below).

The company estimates global demand for acetic acid at 14.3bn lb/year (6.5m tonnes/year), with current US production capacity of nearly 6bn lb/year and sales of around $1bn (€730m).

ZeaChem plans a 250,000 gal/year bio-refinery in Boardman, Oregon, with the core technology of the facility to begin to come online this year and mainly processing a rapidly growing kind of poplar tree that thrives on marginal land.

Imbler said the versatility of its acetogen process allows ZeaChem to pursue a strategy of being "feedstock agnostic", meaning it would be able to process a range of plant material that would reduce risk and give it an edge over rivals.

"Our bug is indifferent, so it is a competitive advantage to be able to use hardwoods" if needed, he said.

The National Ethanol Conference is sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and ends on Wednesday.

($1 = €0.73)

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By: Stephen Burns
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