Mississippi attracts another biorefining company, more to follow

| September 19, 2011

HCL CleanTech will use $100 million worth of incentives provided by the state of Mississippi to build roughly $1 billion worth of renewable sugar facilities. The company is currently located in Oxford, N.C., but according to Eran Baniel, general manager and vice president of business development for HCL CleanTech, the company has devoted considerable time and resources to analyze the opportunities available in the “wood basket” of the Southeast U.S. Although the company did pursue locating its future facilities in other states, Baniel also said that none of the offers were as good as Mississippi. “It is not easy for a small startup to convince people that in five years it will be a big industrial company,” he said, or “to convince them that other large industries will follow just because we chose to be in one of those states.” Fortunately Baniel told Biorefining Magazine Gov. Haley Barbour had a vision, and Mississippi “will enjoy the fruits of it.”

The $100 million provided from Mississippi will be used to assist in the construction of the company’s first commercial large-scale facilities, located in Natchez, Booneville and Hattiesburg. Additional tax credits will help the company pay for the additional financing and the new employees required at all of the facilities, Baniel said. The company also has plans to build a demonstration-scale size plant in Grenada, as a measure to derisk the scale-up process “to make sure the economy of scale works for us and not against us,” Baniel explained, and also to ensure the investors aligned with HCL CleanTech that the technology can perform at commercial level.

The HCL CleanTech process is based on a hydrochloric acid-driven hydrolysis process that converts cellulose into renewable sugars, which can be used as feedstock for cellulosic biofuels and biobased products. The first step of the process involves sizing and drying the biomass, followed by the next step, HCL Hydrolysis at low temperatures. Two separate streams follow the hydrolysis process, a hydrolyzate stream and a lignin stream. Using a proprietary acid recovery step, the HCL acid is separated from the hydrolyzate and recycled, and the remaining product is sent to a fermentation step. From the lignin stream, a lignin recovery step is performed resulting in enough lignin solids to power a facility along with other tall oils.

The use of hydrochloric acids to create fermentable sugars was initially tested by the Germans during WWII, the company said, adding that the HCL CleanTech process is more advanced.

In June, the U.S. DOE awarded the company a $9 million grant to continue advancing the process.