Rivertop to start pilot plant construction

This post was from my Q&A with Rivertop Renewables’ new president and chief financial officer Jere Kolstad (ex-CEO Jim Stoppert reportedly still continues as an advisor). The company recently announced its plans to start building its 100,0000 lb/year semi-works plant in the Fall this year at its headquarters in Missoula, Montana, as well as expanding equipments at its current laboratories. The company will initially produce glucaric acid at the semi-works facility.

Within a year of starting the pilot production, construction of a 60m lb/year commercial plant is expected, said Kolstad.

“We will first produce commercial product through contract manufacturing and will invest in piloting equipment for the grant-funded semi-works facility once market share is build and equipment financing is in place. Market demand could be sufficiently demonstrated as early as this year,” said Kolstad.

According to the company, a $3.5m grant for the pilot project was received from the US Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) and from the University of Montana. The pilot facility is located at the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC), a technology and business incubator formed through a collaboration between the University of Montana and the Missoula Area Economic Development Foundation. Rivertop itself is contributing an additional $2.5m in private capital to the pilot project.

 The semi-works facility will be owned and operated by Rivertop. Aside from glucaric acid, the company also plans to pilot produce other sugar acids such as xylaric, arabinaric and mannaric acids. (The DOE’s top 12 renewable chemical building blocks as reported in 2004 include glucaric, xylaric and arabinaric acids by the way…).

For glucaric acid, the company expects to first enter the detergents market by applying glucarate products as a cost-competitive alternative to phosphates. Other applications in the near term includes as corrosion inhibitors and eventually for a host of polymer applications including hydrogels, adhesives, films, and flocculants. The first market the company is exploring for glucaric acid-based polymers is controlled-release fertilizer market, said Kolstad.

“As we continue to refine our production process, build a market for our glucarate products, and gain traction from partners and customers, we expect to announce partnerships that will help us market and sell larger quantities of these products. Through our ongoing discussions with those in the industry, we are seeing significant interest in our glucarate products, particularly as a replacement for phosphates in detergents. Due to this very positive response, we believe that there will be significant opportunities to partner with leading companies in the space to bring product to market.” – Kolstad

 Rivertop said it will use corn-based glucose for its initial glucarate products and are already in negotiations with domestic producers for supply. The company said it will always look to obtain feedstock from sources close to their production facility to control costs and environmental impacts associated with transport.

Speaking of costs, the green blog asked Kolstad the economics of their glucaric acid. Glucarates are only commercially available now in fine grades required by nutritional supplement formulators at price tags of $40/lb and higher. This is what he has to say:

“Rivertop is confident that our cost to produce–first through contract manufacturing and eventually through our own commercial facility–will enable introduction of glucarate to industrial markets. We are confident that no other technology will achieve the cost-cutting efficiencies of Rivertop’s platform.”

I guess this didn’t directly answer my question (as of course I had to fish out how much is their glucaric acid cost going to be). If I remember correctly last year in a presentation at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, Rivertop estimated processing cost for its glucaric acid at 33 cents/lb. Not sure if this is still the case but it definitely beats the $40/lb price. Rivertop previously estimated the potential global market in replacing detergent phosphates at $10bn, and that market approval for this type of product can only take six months.

Checking out ICIS Pricing, the only phosphate price I can get is for fertilizer application where price for diammonium phosphate in the US is currently pegged at around 28 cents/lb.

[Render of Rivertop Renewables' planned lab atrium at the new semi-works facility]

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