US REG, ExxonMobil team up on biodiesel

Leela Landress

26-Jan-2016

Image 4690625a Photographer Jim West / imageBROKER/REX Shutterstock VARIOUS Worker at fermentation tanks for making cellulosic ethanol from non-edible plants at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, operated by the US Department of Energy, Golden, Colorado, USA 2007
Renewable Energy Group has developed a technology that uses microbes to convert sugars to biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process similar to ethanol manufacturing. (Jim West/imageBROKER/REX Shutterstock)

MEDELLIN, Colombia (ICIS)–Renewable Energy Group (REG) and ExxonMobil have launched a project to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from sources such as agricultural waste.

REG has developed a patented technology that uses microbes to convert sugars to biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process similar to ethanol manufacturing, REG said in a statement.

The ExxonMobil and REG Life Sciences research will focus on using sugars from non-food sources.

“This research is just one way ExxonMobil is working to identify potential breakthrough technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy supplies and realise other environmental benefits,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “The science is extremely complex, but we hope to identify new affordable and reliable supplies of energy for the world that do not have a major impact on food supplies.”

Through the research, the two companies will be addressing the challenge of how to ferment real-world renewable cellulosic sugars, which contain multiple types of sugars, including glucose and xylose, but also impurities that can inhibit fermentation.

“REG has a long history of innovation in the production of advanced biofuels from lower carbon, waste feedstocks,” said Eric Bowen, REG vice president and head of REG Life Sciences. “We look forward to this collaboration with ExxonMobil to advance our proprietary cellulosic sugar fermentation technology and capitalise on the combined power of cellulosic sugars and microbial fermentation to revolutionise the production of ultra-low carbon, cleaner burning advanced biofuels.”

“Our first challenge is to determine technical feasibility and potential environmental benefits during the initial research,” Swarup said. “If the results are positive, we can then take the next step and explore the potential to expand our efforts and explore scalability.”

Based in Ames, Iowa, REG is a large North American producer and marketer of biomass-based diesel, with 11 active biorefineries across the US and a nationwide production, distribution and logistics system.

REG also produces renewable hydrocarbon diesel at its 75m gal/year (284m litres/year) plant in Geismar, Louisiana.

The plant, which launched operations in November, is REG’s first that produces renewable diesel using the company’s Bio-Synfining technology, which uses vegetable oils and animal fats as a feedstock.

The plant also produces naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Renewable diesel is different from biodiesel, which is made through atransesterification process.

Bio-Synfining is a hydrotreating process that relies on heat, hydrogen and catalysts to produce renewable diesel.

(INSET IMAGE: Sipa Press/REX Shutterstock)

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