Business Briefs: People, Partnerships & Deals

By Biorefining Staff | December 27, 2010

1. San Francisco-based SynGest Inc. has been approved to receive $2.5 million from the Iowa Power Fund and Iowa Office of Energy Independence for the design and engineering stage of a biomass-to-ammonia production facility in Menlo, Iowa. Contingent upon receiving the state funding, SynGest managed to successfully raise an additional $3.5 million in new cash equity, according to CEO Jack Oswald. The future facility, expected to carry a total capital cost of $135 million, will utilize approximately 130,000 tons of decommissioned railroad ties as feedstock to produce 50,000 tons of biobased anhydrous ammonia annually through a pressurized oxygen-blown biomass gasifier operating in an expanding bed fluidized mode.

2. Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC announced in December that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted a patent encompassing Butamax’s isobutanol-producing biocatalyst. The patent is titled, “Fermentive Production of Four Carbon Alcohols.” Butamax has filed an extensive patent portfolio for its proprietary technology across the biofuel value chain, including biocatalyst, bioprocess and fuels. A number of Butamax’s patent applications have been successfully accepted into the USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program for accelerated review. “This biocatalyst patent is a reflection of our first-mover position in isobutanol,” says Tim Potter, CEO. As more of our patent portfolio matures, our patents will play an important role in our efforts to develop and commercialize biobutanol for the global transport fuel market.”

3. German airline Lufthansa has announced plans to fuel select commercial passenger flights with a 50/50 mix of biofuel and traditional kerosene jet fuel. According to the airline, the project is backed by the German government within the framework of its aviation research program, which aims to increase the sustainability of air traffic. Biofuel used for the project will be procured from Neste Oil, which recently began operations at a renewable diesel plant in Singapore. The six-month trial program is slated to begin in April. During the research period an Airbus A321 that travels commercially along the Hamburg-Frankfurt-Hamburg route will be fueled with the 50 percent biofuel mix, pending the fuel’s certification. According to Lufthansa, the primary goal of the project is to conduct a long-term trial to study the effect of biofuel on engine life and maintenance.

4. Neste Oil has announced the start-up of its new renewable diesel plant in Singapore. Production at the facility will be ramped up on a phased basis. According to Neste Oil, the 800,000 ton (240 MMgy) plant was completed on schedule and on budget. A similar-sized NExBTL plant, which is under construction in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is expected to be commissioned in the first half of 2011. In addition, Neste Oil already operates two smaller renewable diesel plants in Finland. According to Jarmo Honkamaa, Neste Oil’s deputy CEO and executive vice president, all the plants are able to use a wide variety of renewable raw materials to produce NExBTL diesel. “Currently Neste Oil uses palm oil, rapeseed oil and waste animal fat sourced from food industry to produce its NExBTL diesel,” he says. Neste Oil’s NExBTL production process involves hydrotreating feedstock.

5. Bolingbrook, Ill.-based Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc. and Dow Corning Corp. have introduced a new biobased home-care product, Dow Corning HY-3200 Emulsifying Soy Wax, the third in a growing family of biobased product lines based on Elevance’s novel metathesis of natural lipids. According to Andy Shafer, vice president of sales and market development for Elevance, Dow Corning HY-3200 provides emulsifying characteristics that the industry typically receives from polyethylene glycol, a polyether compound traditionally made from petroleum and used in various industrial manufacturing applications. He added that the biobased ingredient also acts as a thickening agent that simplifies formulations. The product will be commercially available in 2011.

6. The Organic Matrix Combustion catalyst (OMX) and FT microchannel reactor system have won the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) 2010 award as the Innovative Product of the Year. Made by U.K.-based Oxford Catalysts Group, the catalyst is part of the winning system that features a novel FT microchannel reactor at a plant in Austria. According to Matt Stalker of IChemE, the awards “are the most prestigious in chemical and process engineering worldwide. They are global in reach, attract entries from all over the world,” and have been presented for the past 17 years, he said. The OMX is characterized by crystallites that feature a terraced surface to enhance activity, combining a metal salt with an organic compound to create a process that stabilizes the catalyst when used in the FT microchannel reactor, which utilizes 900 microchannels in the millimeter range. As the winner of the bioprocessing award, Stalker said the OMX/FT reactor system was considered the best product originating from the process industries to be manufactured commercially after July 2009.

7. A researcher at the University of Arkansas has created the first methane-producing microorganism that can metabolize complex carbon structures. The project could lead to the development of a microbial process to recycle waste products, such as glycerin from biodiesel plants, into a renewable form of natural gas. According to David Lessner, an assistant professor of biological sciences who is leading the research, the project focused on methanogens, which are methane-producing anaerobic microorganisms. “These are microorganisms that grow only in anaerobic—or oxygen free—environments, but they are found in very diverse environments,” he says. “They grow by producing methane gas as an end product.” The research conducted by Lessner and his colleagues focused on a strain of methanogen known as Methanosarcina acetivorans. According to Lessner, this particular strain was used because it can naturally consume more substrates or chemicals than most other methanogens.

8. Lakewood, Colo.-based ZeaChem Inc. achieved two key financial milestones that will help bring online its 250,000 gallon-per-year demonstration-scale biorefinery currently under construction in Boardman, Ore. First, the company obtained a guaranteed maximum price, under the EPC agreements with engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, for construction of the project’s core facility. Second, ZeaChem intends to use a $25 million grant from the U.S. DOE to fund the independent front and back-end cellulosic process components, which will enable ZeaChem to produce fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol as well as intermediate chemicals from nonfood biomass. John Nobles, president of Burns & McDonnell’s process and industrial group, says, “Since 1898, we have built a reputation of making our customers successful with practical technology advancements and predictable costs. We look forward to helping ZeaChem deploy their technology.”

9. As part of the Obama Administration’s continuing commitment to accelerating R&D to develop a more sustainable transportation system, the U.S. DOE is accepting applications for up to $30 million in total funding for small-scale process integration projects that support the development of advanced biofuels. Specifically, the funding opportunity provides up to $30 million over the next three to four years to support as many as five projects. The projects will focus on optimizing and integrating process steps that convert biomass into biofuels and bioproducts that will eventually be used to support hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals. These process improvements could include pretreatment methods that alter the biomass to improve the yield of sugars in subsequent process steps; less costly and more efficient enzymes that produce sugars; and fermentation organisms and catalysts that convert the sugars into fuel and chemical intermediates. Successful applicants are expected to demonstrate the research potential to improve the economics and efficiency of their proposed processes.

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