InterviewUS Virent seeks market for sugar-based PX, gasoline

18 June 2011 00:27  [Source: ICIS news]

By Doris de Guzman

NEW YORK (ICIS)--US technology firm Virent Energy Systems plans to have a commercial biorefinery plant under construction - if not fully operational - by 2014, producing sugar-based paraxylene (PX) and gasoline, said CEO Lee Edwards.

The location of the plant could be anywhere in the world, depending on feedstock availability and economics, while plant capacity would depend on the needs of Virent’s future partners, Edwards said.

Virent currently uses beet sugar for feedstock at its 10,000 gal/year demonstration facility in Madison, Wisconsin. Edwards said the company’s technology can use any kind of sugar source, even cellulosics such as wood chips and corn stover.

For biogasoline, the target capacity is expected around 20m gal/year or higher while for Virent’s sugar-based PX trademarked BioFormPX, capacity could range between 100,000 and 300,000 tonnes/year, he said.

“We will be in the business of both biofuel and bio-based chemicals from this first commercial deployment,” said Edwards.

He added: “Given the nature of the capital and large volumes needed for commercialisation, we expect to collaborate with strategic partners for commercial deployment. We intend to be an active owner and operator of our technology at scale in partnership with others.”

Virent began to focus last year on bio-PX development and recently announced successful laboratory-scale production.

The PX molecule is a precursor for purified terephthalic acid (PTA), and when combined with existing renewable-based monoethylene glycol (MEG), Virent’s technology allows for the production of 100% renewable-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins for bottling and packaging, Edwards said.

Major branded consumer goods and beverage companies would prefer to use bio-based PET over other bioplastics because of existing infrastructure and PET’s beneficial properties in packaging, he said.

“For these companies, to be able to get 100% renewable-based PET will give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” Edwards added.

Companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsico announced their intent to use 100% bio-based PET in the future, the company said.

Virent said it was talking with a number of companies within the PET bottle resin supply chain - from petroleum refiners to branded consumer goods companies for potential partnerships.

“We will be partner-dependent in producing pilot-scale quantities of BioFormPX, which will ultimately go into demonstration quantities of PET bottle resin to make the 100% PET demo bottles. This will be done in our demonstration facility here in Wisconsin,” said Edwards.

Virent plans to start demonstration campaigns late this year or early 2012, he said.


By: Doris de Guzman
+1 713 525 2653



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