US biorefineries step up capacities

A recent round table hosted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization(BIO) produced interesting updates on several biorefineries planned inthe US. Participants at the roundtable included Coskata, Zeachem, Genomatica and Genencor.

First let’s define what a biorefinery is according to BIO:

“Bio-refinery”- a facility that integrates production of biofuels, energy andvalue-added chemicals or – or plastics from renewable sources of sugar- similar to the current petrochemical refinery, but with flexible feedstocks.

BIO’s spokesman Paul Winters quoted arecent study by the UK Industrial Biotechnology and Innovation Growthteam that estimated the current global market for biorefinery-basedchemicals at $164 billion. This is up from the $150 billion 2010projection the consulting firm McKinsey and Company estimated in 2006.

The UK study estimated demand for plant-based chemicals could generate sales of nearly $600 billion by 2025.COSKATA UPDATE:

Coskata’svice president and chief marketing officer Wes Bolsen said they alreadyhave an agreement in place with an undisclosed partner to build a 50mgal/year (189m litre/year) wood-biomass ethanol facility in the southeastern part of the US.

Coskataalso has an agreement to build a 50m-100m gal/year sugar-based ethanolfacility in Clewiston, Florida, with partner US Sugar. If funding canbe secured, the plants could be operational by 2012, Bolsen said.

Coskata’stechnology uses gasification processes that enable the low-costproduction of ethanol from materials including biomass, agriculturaland municipal wastes.

The company is licensing its technologystarting this year with a pilot plant already existing outside ofChicago that has been operating since last year. Another pilot plantthat Bolsen called “minimum scale engineering plant” is expected tostart in Pittsburgh within days (or weeks)

ZEACHEM UPDATE:

ZeaChemis seeking to start up its first commercial bio-refinery of around 25mgal/year bioethanol in Boardman, Oregon, in 2013, and then build largerfacilities of 100m gal/year.

Tim Eggeman, chief technologyofficer and co-founder said his company is using a hybrid biorefineryplatform based on biochemical and thermochemical processing to produceethanol fuel and intermediate chemicals using flexible feedstock suchas Coskata’s.

“We’reone of the very few cellulosic developers focused both on fuels andchemicals,” said Eggeman. “We have a – a C2 platform that includechemicals like ethylene – ethanol, ethylene, ethyl acetate and so on; aC3 platform where propylene is the big driver; and a C4 platform and soon.”

Eggeman pegged today’s ethanol market at about 9billion gallons a year or roughly $20 billion per year. The largestchemical that can be developed for their C2 platform would be ethylene,which has a $26 billion market in the US. Other markets can includeethyl acetate ($3m in the US), he added.

Propylene (C3 platform) has a $10 billion market in the US.

GENOMATICA UPDATE:

ChristopheSchilling, founder and CEO, said that the company recently announcedthe achievement of an important milestone toward the production of commercial grade butanediol from natural sugar.

Thecompany has demonstrated that it can process BDO produced from sugar togreater than 99 percent purity using a proprietary and cost-effectiverecovery process.

A demo facility for the technology is expectedto begin operating next year. Genomatica is also seeking tocommercialize its first bio-based 1,4 butanediol (BDO) plant in thenext three to four years.

GENENCOR UPDATE:

Genencor’sMaggie Cervin, staff scientist, expression/molecular biology,reiterated the importance of their first scheduled delivery of bio-isoprene which is used in synthetic rubber and elastomers for Goodyear tires.

Asidefrom rubber, Cervin said other products that can be made from theirbio-isoprene could include elastomers and adhesives for incorporationto things like baby diapers.

“We really expect our bio-isoprene to be a drop in for these processes,” she said.

Genencorsaid they are on schedule to have a pilot plant starting in 2011. Thecompany is expecting an integrated bio-refinery for bio-isoprene by2013.

Genencor’s parent company Danisco also has a ethanol biorefinery joint venture with DuPont called DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol.The joint venture and University of Tennessee is building a pilot scale250,000 gallon/year biorefinery in Vonore, Tenn, which will beginproduction by the end of this year.

Watch out for more biorefinery updates as I cover BIO’s 6th World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing event next month in Montreal, Canada.

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