Special Report: Cellulosics begin to make headway

07 March 2014 10:51 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

Progress is now tangible in the use of non-food cellulosic feedstocks for biofuels and bio-based chemicals

Increasing numbers of companies are investing in the production of cellulosic biofuels and bio-based chemicals. Replacement of the sugar and cereal crops that are currently used as raw materials with lower cost lignocellulose material, such as agricultural and forestry waste, is an alternative that could make production more competitive.


Non-food cellulosic feedstocks are breaking out of their cage

Copyright: Rex Features

In order to achieve an economically sustainable process and come close to the prices of fossil fuel-based products, it is necessary to reduce production costs. To date, developing effective technology using cellulosic materials has proved elusive.

US-based BioPower recently announced that it has entered into a 50:50 joint venture agreement with Alternative Green Today (AGT) to produce cellulosic biofuels. Marco Baez-Vasquez, chief scientific and technology officer for company, stated that the new cellulosic ethanol technology will be licensed to “sugar producers, ethanol producers, transportation fuels and energy companies looking to achieve low capital and operating expenditure-backed biofuels production goals”.

The joint venture intends to provide a platform of sustainable solutions for the production of cellulosic biofuels and bio-based products in a flexible and cost-effective manner. Rachel Padget, CEO of AGT, added that the “advanced microbial based technology could be used for the conversion of cellulosic sugars into ethanol at much greater rates and much lower costs than achieved by others today.”

Global Energy will manage the joint venture. Padget added that AGT believed it had “achieved a massive breakthrough” and has partnered with Global Energy to “improve, market and license sustainable platform solutions throughout the world”.

Already active in this area, US-based POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels remains on schedule for start-up of its first commercial cellulosic bio-ethanol plant in the first part of 2014, as workers continue equipment installation and other activity through the winter. Producing 20m gal/year of cellulosic biofuel (later increasing to 25m gal/year), “Project LIBERTY” will use corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk to make this new sustainable fuel.

The new plant is a 50:50 joint venture between DSM and POET, a US biofuels company that specialises in the creation of bioethanol. The privately held corporation, which was originally called Broin Companies, is headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

POET-DSM also is in talks with other ethanol producers about expanding this technology to more plants around the US in the future.

Recently, two winners in the ICIS Innovation Awards 2013, Renmatix and Virent, announced a strategic collaboration to convert affordable cellulosic sugars to renewable chemicals and bio-based packaging materials. Renmatix’s Plantrose platform will be evaluated to provide an affordable sugar stream for Virent’s BioForming process for the large-scale production of bio-based paraxylene (PX).

US-based Cool Planet Energy Systems, a developer of small scale bio-refineries that convert non-food biomass into gasoline, jet fuel and soil-enhancing biochar, is deploying disruptive technology through capital efficient, small-scale biorefineries to economically convert non-food biomass into high-octane gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel. It has announced the location of its first commercial biorefinery in Alexandria, Louisiana, to be completed before the end of 2014.

It is believed that Cool Planet will have one of the lowest capital costs per plant in the refining industry. The facility is 100 times smaller than conventional refineries, but it is able to use a wide variety of renewable biomass materials as inputs. Howard Janzen, CEO of Cool Planet Energy Systems, stated: “Our goal for the Alexandria facility is to be economically competitive with conventional fuels made from non-renewable crude oil.”

Despite a struggle to establish cellulosic biofuels and bio-based chemicals as a viable alternative to fossil fuels, heavy investment in the industry seems to be paying off and a commercial future looks set to develop for cellulosic biofuels.

By John Wilson