Rentech, ClearFuels selected by DOE for integrated biorefinery grant

Posted December 8, 2009, at 8:05 a.m. CST

Rentech Inc. and ClearFuels Technology Inc. jointly announced Dec. 7 that they have been selected to receive up to $23 million as a grant from the U.S. DOE to construct a biomass gasifier at Rentech's Energy Technology Center in Denver. The gasifier will be integrated with Rentech's Product Demonstration Unit for the production of renewable synthetic fuels from biomass.

The grant, which is subject to final negotiation of documents with the DOE, will be used to manufacture and install at RETC a 20 ton-per-day ClearFuels biomass gasifier designed to produce synthesis gas from sugarcane bagasse, virgin wood waste and other cellulosic feedstocks. The gasifier will be integrated with Rentech's existing PDU at the site, which uses the Rentech Process and UOP's upgrading technologies to produce renewable drop-in synthetic jet and diesel fuels at demonstration scale of 10 barrels per day. This joint demonstration of an integrated biorefinery will lead to the final design basis for commercial facilities that are expected to use the combined technologies.

Rentech has a 25 percent strategic ownership interest in ClearFuels, which has begun development of multiple commercial-scale biomass-to-energy projects in the southeastern United States, Hawaii and internationally. These projects are expected to use an integrated ClearFuels-Rentech design and be co-located at sugar mills, and at wood and other biomass processing facilities.

It is expected that the life-cycle carbon footprint of renewable fuels produced by ClearFuels-Rentech technologies can be near zero, depending on the feedstock. The renewable synthetic diesel and jet fuels will meet all applicable fuels standards, be compatible with existing engines and pipelines, and burn cleanly, with emissions of particulates and other regulated pollutants significantly lower than emissions of traditional fuels. Jet fuel produced from the Fischer-Tropsch process, on which Rentech's technology is based, is the only alternative fuel type currently certified for use by the U.S. Air Force and by the Federal Aviation Administration for use in commercial aircraft.

Commenting on the award, D. Hunt Ramsbottom, president and CEO of Rentech, said, "We are pleased that Rentech and our partner, ClearFuels, have been selected to receive a DOE grant for an integrated biorefinery to produce renewable synthetic fuels. The ClearFuels gasification technology complements our Rentech-SilvaGas biomass gasification process, enabling plant configurations that can be optimized for various biomass feedstocks and markets." Ramsbottom continued, "The award will be an important step in furthering Rentech's leadership position in the bioenergy space and will create green jobs at our Colorado synthetic fuels facility. We'd like to thank the DOE for recognizing the potential importance of innovative biomass-to-fuels technologies, and the impacts they can have on domestic energy production, carbon reduction, and the economy. We also appreciate the support we have received from the state of Colorado in advancing our project."

Eric Darmstaedter, CEO of ClearFuels, commented, "We are pleased that our team has been selected for this DOE grant and appreciate all the interest and support we received from our partners and investors. The co-location and integration of the ClearFuels technology at Rentech's PDU provides us a lower-cost and lower-risk pathway to commercialization. Rentech's experience successfully operating the PDU since 2008 will help facilitate a rapid and successful commercial validation of our integrated technologies."

The ClearFuels-Rentech project is one of 19 integrated biorefinery projects selected to receive funds from the DOE under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to accelerate the construction and operation of pilot, demonstration, and commercial-scale biorefineries. The DOE indicated that these projects will validate refining technologies and help lay the foundation for full commercial-scale development of an advanced bio-fuels industry in the United States.

In a press release announcing the grants on Dec. 4, DOE Secretary Steven Chu said, "Advanced biofuels are critical to building a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system in the U.S. These projects will help establish a domestic industry that will create jobs here at home and open new markets across rural America."