This post is a little bit difficult for me to do given my extremely little knowledge about sugar chemistry and its industry. I’m also not familiar with the sugar market compared to my 10-year background in the vegetable oils and animal fats industry.
But with everybody talking about sugar in the renewable chemicals sector, the blog might as well get to know Pennsylvania, US-based cellulosic sugar producer Renmatix a little bit better. According to their website, the 3-year old start-up company, stealthily funded by Kleiner Perkins, was formerly called Sriya Innovations and its current name is now derived from RENewable MATerials to show its commitment to this industry.
Renmatix claimed itself to be the current lowest-cost producer of cellulosic sugar. In September, the company unveiled its technology platform Plantrose process that uses supercritical hydrolysis, which Renmatix claimed can produce cheaper sugars than ever before from non food-derived feedstock (specifically woody biomass) for use in biofuel and chemical applications.
The technology process does not use enzymes but instead uses pure water as solvent. The problem with cellulosic sugar, according to Renmatix, is that it is difficult to break down from its source — whether from leaves, tree trunks, grasses, etc — and that is one of the biggest scientific challenges for the renewable chemicals (and advanced biofuels) sector in trying to use it as feedstock.
On their website, Renmatix said it can deconstruct cellulosic materials into two core processing steps: First, fractionation of biomass and separation of the remaining solids which contain cellulose and lignin. Second, hydrolysis of the pretreated solids under more severe conditions using hot compressed water as primary solvent.
The end product in the Plantrose process are C5 (xylose) and C6 (glucose) sugars. Renmatix said it uses waste wood that has no commercial value but the process can also use a wide variety of non-food cellulosic materials. The company already has its sugar trademarked Plantro Chemicals (for renewable chemicals application obviously such as biobutanol, surfactants, lactic acid, polypropylene, polyethylene, etc.); and Plantro Fuels (biobutanol, jet fuel, diesel applications).
Renmatix noted that it has scaled its production by 3,000x since May 2008 and it is currently able to process 3 dry tons/day of biomass at its demo plant in Kennesaw, Georgia. Few are pursuing supercritical fluid routes for biomass, said Renmatix, and none are near the scale that the company is said to have achieved.
The company said it plans to build, own and operate its own production facilities as well as license the technology for some markets. No word yet on when and where the company will have its first commercial facility but news reports indicated that details about the $100m facility will be announced early next year.
Renmatix said, its commercial plants will have a very small footprint and will be customized depending on the local feedstock availability e.g. corn stover in Iowa, wood chips in Georgia, switchgrass in South Dakota.