Page 1


Taking Scale-Up


Page 20

Plus Building Out

the Biobased Chemicals Markets Page 26


Aligning with the Right EPC Contractor

Page 30

contents |

March issue 2011 VOL. 02 ISSUE 03






project Development

Going Global

Scaling Up to Biobased Chemicals

Building Ideas

How to achieve scale-up successes in international markets By Erin Voegele

Keeping market balance as biobased chemicals build out By Bryan Sims

Landing the right EPC contractor is an important decision By Luke Geiver


4 Editor’s Note

Scale Up By Ron Kotrba

6 Advanced Advocacy The Clean Energy Generation By Michael McAdams

7 Industry Events

10 Business Briefs

People, Partnerships & Deals

12 Startup

Biorefining News & Trends

34 Contribution T

Upcoming Conferences & Trade Shows

N = rpm




Tank Batch Reactor


Taking Scale-Up


Page 20


8 Talking Point



Ineos Bio Takes Advanced Biofuel Technology Commercial By peter williams

9 Legal Perspectives

Will Your Patents Scale Up with You? By Paul Craane


Biorefining Technology Scale-Up

Engineers discuss scale-up topics that must be considered By Marc Privitera and Christina Borgese


Building Out the Biobased Chemicals Markets Page 26


Aligning with the Right EPC Contractor Page 30

ON THE COVER: Navigating the landscape of international scale up

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 3


editor’s note

The biorefining industry is young, full of promising startups holding an array of technologies capable of working wonders in conversion of biomass to advanced biofuels and biobased chemicals—at lab- or maybe even pilot-scale. But when it comes

scale up Ron Kotrba, Editor

to moving beyond the small-scale achievements of producing on-spec products in millimeter-sized beakers, what do project developers and technology providers need to consider for the next level of demonstration-scale production or, more importantly, commercialization? Seeking answers to this question, we developed the March issue of Biorefining Magazine around the theme of scale-up. There are so many angles to think about during scale-up that it would be impossible to cover in a 40-page magazine. Considerations include choosing the right engineering firm to develop a scaled-up process, one that may not tell project developers what they want to hear but instead what needs to be heard. As Marc Privitera and Christina Borgese, founding engineers of PreProcess Inc., write in their contribution article, “Biorefining Technology Scale-Up,” on page 34, “Occasionally inventors see a success on the lab bench and assume the scale-up should just be a matter of routine. This is where many efforts fail. The scale-up is rushed, steps are skipped because the understanding of the complexities of scale-up had not been clearly articulated and thus expectations are not met. The carnage begins.” Privitera and Borgese say the irony is that big learning breakthroughs occur through the small failures experienced on the road to scale-up. “However, if the team is underfunded or overstressed trying to fit a pre-assumed, inflexible scale-up expectation, the real pot of gold can be missed. A scale-up plan must be a fluid, agile path that adapts as new information emerges.” There are legal questions too, such as will your intellectual properties scale up when your technologies and processes do? This is addressed in the Legal Perspective column by Paul Craane, a partner attorney with Marshall, Gerstein & Borun, on page 9 of this issue.

for more news, information and perspective, visit

ASSOCIATE EDITORS Erin Voegele writes “Going Global,” the lead feature article on page 20 that covers the complexities of scaling up biorefining processes overseas.

4 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

Bryan Sims’ feature article, “Scaling Up Biobased Chemicals,” on page 26, details nuances that are specific to the buildout of biobased chemicals.

Luke Geiver writes about project developers aligning with the right engineering firms for maximum scale-up success in “Building Ideas” on page 30.

EDITORIAL EDITOR Ron Kotrba ASSOCIATE EDITORS Erin Voegele Luke Geiver Bryan Sims COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann

ART ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund graphic designer Erica Marquis


SALES VICE PRESIDENT, SALES & MARKETING Matthew Spoor EXECUTIVE ACCOUNT MANAGER Howard Brockhouse SENIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER Jeremy Hanson ACCOUNT MANAGERS Chip Shereck Marty Steen Bob Brown Andrea Anderson Dave Austin CIRCULATION MANAGER Jessica Beaudry SUBSCRIBER ACQUISITION MANAGER Jason Smith ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Marla DeFoe Senior Marketing Manager John Nelson Customer Service Please call 1-866-746-8385 or email us at Subscriptions to Biorefining Magazine are free of charge to everyone with the exception of a shipping and handling charge of $49.95 for any country outside the United States, Canada or Mexico. To subscribe, visit or you can send your mailing address and payment (checks made out to BBI International) to: Biorefining Magazine Subscriptions, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. You can also fax a subscription form to (701) 746-5367. Back Issues, Reprints and Permissions Select back issues are available for $3.95 each, plus shipping. Article reprints are also available for a fee. For more information, contact us at (701) 746-8385 or Advertising Biorefining Magazine provides a specific topic delivered to a highly targeted audience. We are committed to editorial excellence and high-quality print production. To find out more about Biorefining Magazine advertising opportunities, please contact us at (701) 746-8385 or Letters to the Editor We welcome letters to the editor. Send to Biorefining Magazine Letters to the Editor, 308 2nd Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203 or e-mail to Please include your name, address and phone number. Letters may be edited for clarity and/or space.

Please recycle this magazine and remove inserts or samples before recycling COPYRIGHT Š 2011 by BBI International

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 5


advanced advocacy

The Clean Energy Generation RAND Corp.’s findings are suspect and uninformed BY Michael mcadams


nly a few times in our nation’s history has a generation been called to action or to discovery. Among these seminal times Americans helped win a world war, demand civil rights for all, made the first steps on the moon and opened the doors to a entirely new world with the Internet. These historic points not only changed our nation, but acted as a clarion call for the world. Our nation stands at the precipice of another of these unique moments as we seek clean energy alternatives that could transform the world. The readers of this magazine know better than anyone, the clean energy generation is real and not a scholarly hypothesis from a Washington think tank. The transformation from fossil fuels to a cleaner, more efficient and renewable source is well on its way and led by the commercialization of advanced biofuels and bioproducts. That is why the recent release of findings of the RAND Corp. was so startling, and candidly suspect. RAND was tasked by the U.S. Department of Defense to study the viability and efficiency of investing in alternative fuels as it moves to develop and deploy its Great Green Fleet. Unfortunately the results RAND submitted to DOD were not only incomplete, but the group surprisingly took the opportunity to embrace failed energy policies of the past. It is important to recognize that DOD’s strategic move to advanced biofuels is a matter of national security. Here are the facts. The DOD is a one of the world’s largest consumers of fuel, representing close to 2 percent of annual U.S. petroleum

6 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

use. In 2008, DOD purchased $16 billion worth of fuel, using 119 million barrels of petroleum for the year. Together, with the private commercial airline industry, DOD currently uses 1.5 million barrels (63 million gallons) of jet fuel per day. Armed with just these few facts, you can see that our nation’s defense is at the mercy of the market just as much as we are when we pull up to the gas station. This must change. The Pentagon should be congratulated, not criticized as RAND has done, for its foresight in establishing a priority that by 2020, 50 percent of its energy will be acquired from alternative sources, and deploying the Navy’s Great Green Fleet. This puts DOD in the technology driver’s seat and should keep to the progress it has already paved instead wrecking itself in a ditch if it follows RAND’s recommendations. The flawed findings of RAND were met by a swift response from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who was not shy in publicly demonstrating there was no loss of enthusiasm for the Pentagon’s commitment to advanced biofuels. Secretary Mabus wrote on the White House blog that Navy tests have shown that advanced biofuels perform just as well as, or better than, fossil-based jet fuel. He wrote, “Just as importantly, neither of these fuels impacts food supply, the carbon footprint in terms of production is low, and the cost of each is rapidly falling.” The Navy will not be deterred and steered off course. I am proud to share with you that members of the Advanced Biofuels Association are helping DOD with this endeavor and have already demonstrated

measureable, real-world success. This includes Solazyme, an ABFA member that last year produced more than 100,000 gallons of algae oil utilizing algae and a fermentation process. The company is a key partner with the U.S. Navy and delivered 20,000 gallons of jet and diesel, the largest amount of advanced algae biofuel ever produced to date. Solazyme also signed a follow-up contract to deliver more than seven times more fuel in 2011—150,000 gallons. RAND apparently ignored the success in 2009, when ABFA member Sapphire Energy participated in two test flights using algae-based jet fuel in a Boeing 747 and a 737-800 twin-engine aircraft. Sapphire is on track in its commercial demonstration in New Mexico to produce 1 million gallons of jet fuel and 1 million gallons of alternative diesel fuel from algae. Another ABFA member, Amyris, has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Embraer and General Electric to test renewable jet fuel. The technologies and benefits of advanced biofuels are real. Every day we are seeing example after example of real world applications from state-of-the-art biorefineries going online by ABFA companies like Tyson and Neste to partnerships with Rentech and Audi, as well as Virent and Scuderia Ferrari that fuel SUVs and Formula One racecars, respectively. America cannot afford to step back in time to failed policies and have future generations pay for that mistake. Author: Michael McAdams President, Advanced Biofuels Association (202) 469-5140

events calendar |

International Biomass Conference & Expo

May 2-5, 2011

America’s Center | St. Louis, Missouri The largest, fastest growing biomass event was attended in 2010 by 1,700 industry professionals from 49 states and 25 nations representing nearly every geographical region and sector of the world’s biomass utilization industries—power, thermal energy, fuels and chemicals. Plan to join more than 2,500 attendees, 120 speakers and 400-plus exhibitors for the premier international biomass event of the year. (701) 746-8385 |

International Fuel Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo

June 27-30, 2011

27th Annual FEW Heads to Indy 6/27

Indianapolis may be home to the electrifying Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500, but for four days in June, any positive buzz in the city will be coming from ethanol. As host to the 27th annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, June 27-30 at the Indiana Convention Center, the city can expect more than 2,500 well-versed experts and attendees to arrive for the most-recognized ethanol event in the world. The anticipation for the FEW has already begun, and the mayor of Indianapolis has responded with a personal greeting to those headed for the Hoosier State. “I admire your organization’s commitment to ethanol, a product that helps fuel our famous Indianapolis 500 cars,” Mayor Gregory A. Ballard wrote to International FEW members. And the city itself, according to Ballard, should provide an invigorating backdrop for the conference. “The 13th largest city in the U.S. is continuing to grow, with more than $3 billion in new tourism offerings coming on line by the time we host the Super Bowl in 2012,” Ballard says. “Consistently ranked as one of the Top 25 most visited cities in the U.S., I am confident our numerous cultural attractions, convenient downtown, and diverse culinary scene will create the perfect setting for your meeting.” The four-day event will feature keynote speeches, technical presentations and unmatched networking forums based on the current, and future, ethanol industry. The 27th installment of the FEW will include four main tracks highlighting the most up-to-date innovations, strategies and operations in the realm of production, management, coproducts and cellulosic ethanol, all of which reach the presentation floor through an abstract rating process that utilizes nearly 40 industry experts to hand pick the best of the best. With industry professionals attending from nearly all 50 states, 25 countries and plant personnel from almost every ethanol facility in the U.S. and Canada, this year’s FEW will remain a conference tailored to ethanol producers. And for those interested in the current trends and challenges facing the blossoming cellulosic ethanol industry, expect the latest news and information on where the industry is, and where it is headed.

Indiana Convention Center | Indianapolis, Indiana The FEW is the largest, longest-running ethanol conference in the world, and is renowned for its superb programming, which focuses on commercial-scale ethanol production—both grain and cellulosic—operational efficiencies, plant management, energy use, and near-term research and development. (701) 746-8385 |

International Biorefining Conference & Trade Show

September 14-16, 2011

Hilton Americas – Houston | Houston, Texas This event will unite bioconversion technology providers and researchers from around the world with agriculture, forestry, and refining professionals to discuss and examine the scale-up and commercial establishment of advanced biofuels and biobased chemicals. Organized by BBI International and produced by Biorefining Magazine, the event will bring together agricultural, forestry, waste, and petrochemical professionals to explore the value-added opportunities awaiting them and their organizations within the quickly maturing biorefining industry. Speaker abstracts are now being accepted online. (701) 746-8385 |

Northeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show

October 11-13, 2011

Westin Place Hotel | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania With an exclusive focus on biomass utilization in the Northeast—from Maryland to Maine—the event is a dynamic regional offshoot of Biorefining Magazine and Biomass Power & Thermal’s International Biomass Conference & Expo, the largest event of it’s kind in the world. The 2nd annual conference will connect current and future producers of biomass-derived electricity, industrial heat and power, and advanced biofuels, with waste generators, aggregators, growers, municipal leaders, utilities, technology providers, equipment manufacturers, investors and policymakers. (701) 746-8385 |

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 7


talking point

Ineos Bio Takes Advanced Biofuel Technology Commercial Leading world chemical producer breaks ground on advanced biofuel plant By Peter Williams


he desire for energy independence, security of energy supply, and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has set tremendous challenges. In the U.S., the target is to provide an additional 16 billion gallons of transportation fuel from domestic and renewable biomass resources by 2022 and so, displace the need for about 550 million barrels of oil at a savings of $32 billion, while reducing GHG emissions by at least 60 percent. For companies like Ineos, the target represents both opportunity and challenge. On one hand, it creates a vast market for new technology and innovation. On the other, it requires diversion of resources and capital from existing core businesses that underpin both company performance and sustain jobs—more than 3,000 jobs here in the U.S. It’s for that reason that we welcome the fiscal incentives provided by the U.S. DOE and USDA. These combine to create a public-private partnership to drive the rapid development and deployment of new technology to meet the twin demands for domestic supply of transport fuels while meeting challenging new GHG emission requirements. And while the advanced biofuels industry might be seen by some observers to be at a crossroads, we believe that, in fact, there is a credible path forward to deliver well against the challenge laid down. The key as we see it is having the ability to utilize the cheapest renewable carbon source—waste.

8 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

Ineos Bio has developed and is commercializing new technology that takes a wide variety of biomass or other carbon waste and converts it with high efficiency into both bioethanol and excess renewable energy. An important milestone was achieved in early February when we and our joint venture partner, New Planet Energy, broke ground on the Indian River BioEnergy Center in Vero Beach, Fla. This will become the first facility in the world to produce advanced biofuels from waste on a commercial scale. When production begins next year, the facility will generate 8 MMgy of advanced bioethanol together with 6 megawatts (gross) of renewable electricity, of which about 1 to 2 MW will be exported to the grid. Feedstocks will include yard waste, wood, vegetative and household wastes. These break the link between food crops and biofuel production while also reducing the amount of waste going to landfills. The Ineos Bio process is comprised of four main steps: gasification, fermentation, distillation and power generation. This feedstock-flexible process has been in development for more than 20 years, including seven years of integrated pilot plant testing at Ineos Bio’s R&D facility in Fayetteville, Ark. At pilot-scale, the process has achieved a production rate of 100 gallons of ethanol for every dry ton of feedstock. We have successfully tested a wide variety of feedstocks including wood, vegetative, and municipal solid waste, purpose-grown crops and even carbon sources like waste coal, tires and auto-shredder residue. Independent lifecycle analysis calculates that with biomass feedstocks, the GHG savings will be 100

percent or more. More because diverting waste from landfills also prevents methane production, which is itself an additional contributor to GHG emissions. The next stage of our plan is to license this technology across the U.S. and globally, essentially using the Vero Beach facility to create the template. We believe that this plan is credible for two reasons. First, there is widespread feedstock availability in the U.S. and beyond. As communities, we already have to collect our waste. The Ineos Bio technology can latch onto the existing waste infrastructure and divert it to more efficient use. Secondly, the engineering, technical and commercial resources required to deploy the technology already exist. As a leading global licensor of chemical process technology, Ineos has the broad infrastructure and capabilities required to license, train, and support Ineos Bio’s customers. Ineos is a company with proven capability to deploy this advanced biofuel technology, and we are certainly optimistic given the strong policy direction and fiscal incentives. A huge amount of work remains to be done, but we really do believe that we can achieve our aspiration to provide communities large and small with the ability to utilize local waste to produce advanced biofuel and renewable power locally. Provided we grasp the opportunity, we can make an important contribution to a cleaner, sustainable energy future, starting today. Author: Peter Williams CEO, Ineos Technologies


Will Your Patents Scale Up With You? Ensuring that intellectual property grows with your process By Paul Craane


irst there was a spark of ingenuity, and then came the testing, both in the laboratory and the field. Now, you are ready to scale up your technology and go to market. But is your patent portfolio ready to take the next step with you? Patents are the form of intellectual property (IP) that covers machines, methods and compositions of matter. They provide the patentee with the right to exclude others from manufacturing, using, selling or offering for sale the patented technology. This exclusionary right may be enforced in court. In this fashion, the patentee may prevent a late-arriving copyist from obtaining the benefit of the technology without incurring the research and development costs. As an indirect consequence, investors may be more willing to invest in the patentee because the legally enforceable exclusivity reduces the risk of loss of investment. To obtain a patent, the inventor must file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO will examine the application and determine if the claimed technology meets the requirements for patentability. It is desirable to lay the foundations for patent protection early to limit the possibility that the patenting of your technology will be frustrated by others filing on, or publicly disclosing, similar technology. One strategy that helps balance the ability to get an early start on the patent process with the relatively unrefined understanding

of the technology common to basic R&D involves the filing of one or more provisional patent applications. Provisional applications do not start the examination process, but instead are designed to permit an inventor to memorialize the invention in a formal way at a reduced cost. The USPTO filing fees are under $250. Further, because the rules governing the presentation of the information in the application are relatively flexible, the associated attorney preparation fees are relatively modest. Thus, one or more provisional applications may be filed at a relatively modest overall cost to memorialize different stages of the R&D process over a one-year period, after which time it will be necessary to begin the examination process. As important as getting an early start is ensuring an adequately detailed disclosure of the technology in the application. Fundamentally, the disclosure must permit one of ordinary skill to manufacture and use the patented technology. Thus, at an early stage in the R&D process, the manner in which the innovation is to be carried out may be so tentative that it may not yet be ready for patenting. However, once the threshold has been crossed, consideration should be given to making the application “scale-ready.� Making a patent application scaleready requires a recognition that one may claim the technology only as it is disclosed to the USPTO in the application. Consequently, to permit the patent to cover the commercialized technology, the application should capture not only the experimental version of it, but the scaled-up version as well. For example, if the experimental

version involves batch-processing, but the commercial version is likely to be continuous, the application should include disclosure of the expected differences in the equipment, the process and/or the chemical or biological processes required to permit continuous processing. Similarly, if the raw materials require different processing in the scaled-up version, then this should be included. Alternatively, if the operational ranges will vary between the experimental-scale and commercial-scale versions of the technology, this should be reflected in the application. All such questions should be considered as early in the process as possible to provide a robust application that can grow with the technology as it matures. It is impossible to anticipate every twist and turn that may occur. So, what if the technology develops in a direction unanticipated in earlier patent filings? As long as confidentiality is preserved and the technology has not been offered for sale, these improvements may be captured in a subsequent patent application. In fact, unexpected developments that occur during scale-up may be used to extend patent coverage beyond that captured in earlier applications that address the technology only in broad terms. These applications filed on improvements indeed may provide a more daunting challenge to competitors, requiring them to navigate a growing portfolio to take their products and processes to the market. Author: Paul Craane Partner Attorney, Marshall, Gerstein & Borun LLP (312) 474-6623

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 9

business briefs People, Partnerships & Deals

cial product, Bio-BDO (1,4-butanediol), made from dextrose from corn wet mills and sucrose from sugar mills. BDO is an intermediate chemical with a $4 billion market worldwide. Houston-based KiOR Inc. received a term sheet for a loan guarantee from the U.S. DOE to support a $1 billion-plus biofuels project. If approved, the company said it plans to leverage the funds towards the build-out of four biocrude oil production plants that will contribute approximately 250 million gallons of advanced biofuel for RFS2. The first two plants are expected to be in Mississippi, with additional sites planned in Georgia and Texas. “While the term sheet is an important step in the process, we recognize that more work lies ahead to finalize the loan guarantee, and there is no assurance it will be issued until the loan is closed,” says KiOR President and CEO Fred Cannon. KiOR’s first bio-crude oil production facility will be located in Newton, Miss., and is expected to be the largest facility of its kind in the U.S. Additionally, it’s anticipated that more than 14,000 jobs will be created during the construction of the facility, with more than 4,000 jobs created during operations.


New Source Genomatica's Bio-BDO can be used to make bioplastic bottles. PHOTO: GENOMATICA

Waste Management Inc. and Genomatica have forged a strategic joint development agreement to research and advance Genomatica’s technology and manufacturing processes for production of biobased intermediate and platform chemicals from MSW-derived syngas. Under the agreement Genomatica will create proprietary, specially-designed organisms and complete manufacturing processes to convert syngas into various biobased chemical products. Biological production of chemicals is anticipated to provide another potential use for any syngas produced by or for Waste Management through other pathways such as anaerobic digestion, gasification or landfill gas. The joint development agreement with Waste Management follows a successful move by Genomatica to advance its first commer10 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

Golden Opportunity Ineos Bio JV members break ground in Vero Beach, Fla.

Ineos Bio JV got the gold shovels out in February and broke ground near Vero Beach, Fla., at the future home of a first-of-its-kind facility that will produce 8 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol and 6 megawatts of electricity. After completion in 2012, the Indian River BioEnergy Center will use the Ineos-based gasification-fermentation technology that uses local yard, vegetative and other household wastes sourced from a landfill visible from the site. The unique facility is the first of four biorefinery projects that were funded with $50 million from the U.S. DOE in 2009 to begin con-

struction at a commercial scale. More than 200 people attended the event. The massive site, once a grapefruit processing plant, will create roughly 380 direct or indirect jobs through the process of construction and eventual operation.


Seattle-based Blue Marble Energy managed to raise $1.3 million in a Series A-1 round by selling convertible debt into preferred stock. While the investment round went to Blue Marble Energy, a significant portion of the proceeds will be disbursed to its subsidiary Blue Marble Biomaterials in the form of working capital to further operations at its 100 metric ton per month production facility located in Corvallis, Mont., according to CEO Kelly Ogilvie. Built on the success of demonstrating its proprietary Acid, Gas and Ammonia Targeted Extraction process technology at its 1 ton per day pilot facility in Seattle, Blue Marble Biomaterials can manufacture a variety of green chemicals at the Corvallis demonstration facility, such as ethyl butyrate for the food and flavoring industries, and propyl butyrate for the cosmetics and fragrance markets from a variety of cellulosic feedstocks, including woody biomass.

Looking Up Construction on Chemrec's facility was in full swing mid-2010.

Sweden’s Energy Agency believes in Chemrec AB’s biorefinery technology used in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, and now the European Commission does too. Since the Energy Agency awarded Chemrec a $75 million research and development grant in September 2009, the EU commission has come out in support of the grant, claiming that the objectives and goals of the R&D grant to further the facility are compatible with the EU’s priorities. “The R&D grant is to offset the increased cost and risk that a first-of-its-kind industrial size plant is always saddled with,” says Patrik Lownertz, vice president of sales for Chemrec. The Domsjo Fabriker biorefinery is using a black liquor gasification technology that utilizes syngas in a range of thermochemical catalytic processes to produce biomethanol, biodimethyl ether (BioDME), synthetic diesel, synthetic gasoline and ethanol, Lownertz says. The CEO of the Domsjo biorefinery, Ola Hildingsson, says he hopes “the demonstration plant will make it easier and considerably less risky for other companies in the sector to implement this technology, thereby contributing to a more sustainable energy supply within the EU.” Novamont is coming to Connecticut and the company is bringing its novel Mater-Bi bioplastic material along. The developer and manufacturer of renewable bioplastics based in Italy already distributes the bioplastic made from agricultural waste and municipal solid

business briefs |

Metabolix Oilseeds Inc. of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, has been awarded $203,000 in research funding by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture through its Agriculture Development Fund, to accelerate its ongoing research and development of oilseed crops—specifically camelina—as a potential source for biobased plastics. Aside from its inherent advantages as having the ability to thrive in marginal nonirrigated land without competing with food crops, camelina is a viable candidate as a production vehicle for polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) polymers. According to Metabolix, its subsidiary has produced PHA polymers in the oilseed itself. Last year, Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Co. began commercial production of Mirel bioplastic at their $300 million commercial facility in Clinton, Iowa. Two leading California-based cellulosic ethanol and biobased chemical firms, BlueFire

Renewables Inc. and Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc., have secured additional funding that will be put towards furthering their respective project development and commercialization efforts. BlueFire Renewables received $150,000 and secured an additional $9.85 million in committed funding from Lincoln Park Capital Fund LLC, a Chicago-based institutional investment firm. The funds are expected to enable the company to shore up its shortterm cash needs and aid in the closing of additional financing for its 19 MMgy cellulosic ethanol project currently under development in Fulton, Miss. Meanwhile, Fulcrum BioEnergy closed on a $75 million Series C round of financing. A portion of the financing will be used to fund the equity capital of its Sierra Biofuels project, currently under development near Reno, Nev. Using post-sorted municipal solid waste as feedstock, the future facility is expected to produce 10.5 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol, 16 megawatts of renewable electricity and other high-value chemical products. Fulcrum has been working with Fluor Corp. on the engineering services for the project and expects to break ground for construction this summer, with an anticipated 2012 completion date. PHOTO: TERRABON INC.

waste to China, Germany, France, Scandinavia, Denmark, the U.K., Japan, Australia and the U.S., and after recognizing a significant growth potential in the New England area for compostable products, the company will create a North American presence in Danbury, Conn., a Novamont representative tells Biorefining Magazine. “Connecticut has excellent access to a large pool of talented commercial and management personnel,” the spokesperson says. According to a Novamont statement citing research based on biodegradable resins, the global market will reach 1.2 billion pounds by 2012, up from 541 million pounds in 2007. “North America will be a significant contributor to this global growth in the coming decade,” the company says. The Mater-Bi product is currently produced at a manufacturing plant in Terni, Italy, using corn starch, vegetable oil or other renewable raw materials.

Milestone Maker Terrabon hit a production milestone at its Houston demo plant.

Houston-based bioenergy technology firm Terrabon Inc. achieved a significant milestone recently by exceeding its target yield threshold of 70 gallons of renewable cellulosic gasoline from one dry ton of waste feedstock at its demonstration facility in Bryan, Texas. “Just the research around the process conditions to ultimately achieve that conversion is where a lot of the research in our lab, and translating that into our demonstration plant, has really made this come to fruition,” says Terrabon CEO Gary Luce. Terrabon’s MixAlco process is described by Luce as a link-

age of biological fermentation and chemical processes. It begins by treating the feedstock with lime to enhance its digestibility, and then ferments the biomass using a mixed-culture of microorganisms to produce a mixture of carboxylic acids. Calcium carbonate is added to the fermentation to neutralize the acids to form corresponding carboxylate salts, which are then dewatered, concentrated, dried and thermally converted to ketones. The ketones are then hydrogenated into various alcohols that can be refined into renewable gasoline, diesel or jet fuel blendstocks using specific catalysts obtained by CRI/Criterion, a Shell Group subsidiary. Luce adds that Terrabon intends to leverage existing partnerships with Waste Management Inc. as its core feedstock supply partner, in addition to Valero Energy Corp. for potential off-take arrangements. Glycos Biotechnologies Inc. recently announced the appointment of Gary Mossman, chemical industry veteran, to its board of directors. Mossman’s experience spans both large and small molecu- Veteran Gary Mossman has lar technology with more more than 40 years than 40 years of execu- of experience in the tive management and chemicals sector. investment responsibility in private and public pharmaceutical and specialty chemical firms. Mossman is currently chief operating officer and director of PLx Pharma and chairman of Redline Industries. In addition, he is a director of the Nassau Bay Economical Development Council and the CCISD Educational Foundation. Previously executive vice president and COO of Cambrex Corp., Mossman joins current GlycosBio board of director members including Walter Burnap, Richard Cilento, Steve Jurvetson and Dan Watkins. Share your industry briefs To be included in Business Briefs, send information (including photos and logos if available) to: Industry Briefs, Biorefining, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. You may also fax information to (701) 746-8385, or e-mail it to Please include your name and telephone number in all correspondence. march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 11


Biorefining News & Trends

Meet the Bioprospector


A Jeep Wrangler, shabby motels and thousands of miles—all in search of a better algae strain

Collection Project Resurrection Lee Elliot used past records from the Aquatic Species Program to help plan his trips, during which he collected 360 unique isolated strains of algae.

For two straight summers, Lee Elliot spent weeks in a Jeep Wrangler driving through the Southwestern U.S. He wasn’t on a camping trip or a sightseeing tour, rather Elliot was bioprospecting for new strains of algae. A graduate student at the Colorado School of Mines, Elliot’s project was funded in part by C2B2 and National Renewable Energy Laboratory to establish a culture collection of unidentified strains with the idea, he says, “to sample various sites with different water sources in order to isolate unique strains of algae.” Over the course of two summers, Elliot collected 75 water samples from different sites, and roughly 360 unique isolated strains. When he was done, Elliot says he felt overwhelmed by algae but upon his return from the road, everyone in his lab was “absolutely” excited to see what he had found. Now, with hundreds of strains already identified and more in progress, Elliot says he has one major hope for those hot days spent pounding the pavement. “I hope,” he says, “that others will be able to use everything that 12 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

I have done to increase the success of future bioprospecting efforts.” Those efforts, Elliot explains, would not have paid off if not for another familiar, albeit now defunct, culture collection project, the Aquatic Species Program. “NREL and the DOE did this for nearly 20 years for the Aquatic Program,” he says, “but they couldn’t really find the winning strain.” By utilizing sample maps and surveys of diatoms in U.S. lakes and streams in the Southwest under the former Aquatic Species Program, Elliot was able to outline a series of locations that held the potential for algae. “We also checked the rules, in terms of where you can collect water samples from,” he says, “and the rules say you can collect water from anywhere but in national parks.” The main areas Elliot searched were state lands or Bureau of Land Management areas. Or, he says, “If I was driving down the highway and saw a green pool of water next to the road I would sample from that.” While most of his time was spent driv-

ing to each site or trying to find a place to stay in the middle of the night—after all, he collected samples from California, Nevada (near Reno), Utah (near the Salt Lake area), the Denver metro area of Colorado, much of New Mexico and much of Arizona. Elliot says when he got to each site he would spend a few hours collecting samples, documenting the location and water chemistry, before packing the algae samples into 50 milliliter conical vials for transport. He also packed duplicate samples, which were frozen for future study or enriching. Although his driving days are done, Elliot is still hard at work on the project. He hasn’t sequenced any of the strains, but he has used morphology to distinguish unique species. The big question everyone asks is what did he find? The work isn’t done, but Elliot, who has logged more miles than most of us could ever imagine, all for the sake of algae, says that what he found is “pretty amazing,” and that some of the algae cells “can really pack on a lot of oil.” —Luke Geiver

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Turbo Charged

As biobased fuel alternatives continue to be tested by automobile engine manufacturers on land, military aircraft engine manufacturers are doing the same by air. In January, a Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 engine powered its first test flights of a U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The flight tests were conducted with a blend of Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ) with traditional JP-8 jet fuel. Prior to the flight test in Florida, Pratt & Whitney conducted ground testing on the F100 engine model at Arnold’s Engineering Development Center in Tennessee, which included a blend of JP-8 jet fuel, HRJ and a synthetic fuel made from coal. The flight tests using biofuel, according to the company, are in support of the Air Force’s goal to acquire half of its domestic jet fuel requirements from biobased sources by 2016.

Tedd Biddle, a Pratt & Whitney fuels fellow, tells Biorefining Magazine that results from the flight and ground tests fueled with blended HRJ and traditional JP-8 performed as expected with no impact on performance. “This is yet another encouraging step toward certification of biofuels for military and commercial aviation applications,” Biddle says. The flight test con- Fired Up Pratt & Whitney’s F100-PW-220 engine successfully passed ground ducted on its F100 engine and air flights in an F-15 Eagle jet using a blend of renewable jet fuel with traditional JP-8 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. was Pratt & Whitney’s second military engine to successfully complete & Whitney F117 engines, completed testing ground and flight tests using HRJ fuel blend- in August 2010. Similar tests are planned for ed with regular JP-8 jet fuel. A C-17 Globe- its F119 engine in the near future. master III, powered exclusively by four Pratt —Bryan Sims


Hydrotreated renewable jet fuel gets boost during military tests

Financing Fuels Demonstration Ontario will soon be home to a new 750,000 liter (200,000 gallon) cellulosic ethanol plant, thanks to the closing of a $4 million common equity investment. The money is part of a $12 million investment made by the Ontario Emerging Technologies Fund, Investeco Capital, and David LeGresley, former vice chairman of National Bank Financial, to support the development of Mississauga, Ontario-based Woodland Biofuels Inc.’s proposed demonstration-scale facility. According to Greg Nuttall, president and CEO of Woodland, the plant is currently scheduled to be operational by mid-year, noting that detailed engineering work is already underway. The facility will be located at the Bioindustrial Innovation Center in the University of Western Ontario’s Sarnia-Lambton Research Park. The proposed plant will feature Woodland Biofuel’s patented Catalyzed Pressure

Reduction technology, which can produce biobased fuels and chemicals from a wide variety of feedstocks, including wood waste, agricultural waste and municipal solid waste. The gasification technology is billed as an emission-free process that uses modern, off-the-shelf equipment. Gaining Equity Woodland Biofuels Inc. President Greg Nuttall speaks about While it is possible his company’s cellulosic ethanol project during an event announcing the investment made by the Ontario Emerging Technologies Fund, Investeco for the process to produce Capital, and David LeGresley, former vice chairman of National Bank Financial. biobased chemicals and other renewable fuels, Nuttall says Woodland “It’s a good feedstock because it’s uniform Biofuels intends to remain focused on cellu- in nature and the infrastructure is already in losic ethanol. The flexible nature of the tech- place to collect it,” he continues. “Agricultural nology is an asset, he said, “but our number waste is also something we can use, but the one priority is ethanol.” infrastructure isn’t really there right now to Nuttall also says that the facility will em- collect massive amounts of it.” ploy wood waste as its primary feedstock. —Erin Voegele march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 13


A Canadian cellulosic ethanol project moves forward



Making Renewables Renewable The primary benefit of renewable energy is that it offsets the use of fossil fuels, reducing carbon emissions and increasing America’s energy security. Unfortunately, many of the parts that comprise renewable energy systems are sourced from petroleum, partially defeating the purpose of renewable electricity. BioSolar Inc. is working to correct this problem by replacing the petroleum-based backsheet of solar panels with biobased materials. According to Stan Levy, BioSolar’s chief technology officer, a typical solar panel consists of glass, a transparent adhesive, the solar cells, more adhesive, and a backsheet. Traditionally, these backsheets have been produced using petroleum feedstock. However, the biobased backsheet developed by BioSolar is manufactured from 60 percent castor beanbased resin and 40 percent mineral filler. “We buy the resin, we blend it with several propri-

etary components, which are all recyclable, and we extrude a film,” Levy says. In addition to its biobased features, Levy also notes BioSolar’s product is more affordable than traditional petroleum-based backsheets. The material also offers superior durability and allows for increased panel power output. Goes Biobased Biosolar Inc. manufactures biobased backsheet The product has success- Solar for use in solar panels using 60 percent castor bean-based resin and 40 fully completed all critical Un- percent mineral filler. derwriters Laboratories’ initial material property tests and is expected to of- product to market, Levy said. “[The phoficially obtain full UL material certification tovoltaic] industry is very a conservative insoon. Long-term testing by UL to determine dustry,” he continues. “Getting the UL initial the relative thermal index of the material is recognition is a must. It’s going to open the doors for customers to start testing it in earongoing. UL certification is crucial to getting the nest.” —Erin Voegele

Energy Farms Aren’t Just About Energy

The Big Island’s plans for an energy farm may mean one thing—jobs Hawaii Island uses the highest amount of renewable energy in the state, and after a recent contract between the Hawaiian Electric Company and Aina Koa Pono, the Big Island’s renewable energy use is only going to get bigger. Aina Koa Pona, a renewable energy solutions provider, will convert land fallow for 14 years into a 13,000-acre energy farm called the Ka’u Energy Farm. The plan is to invest nearly $320 million into the farm. The money will be enough to create a 16 MMgy biofuel plant alongside energy crop fields featuring sweet sorghum and eucalyptus. The farm will cycle the crops and use crop residue for other liquid fuels and electricity, according to Aina Koa Pona. Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono is excited about the “visionary steps” taken by the energy developers, and Mayor William Kenoi for the County of Hawaii says the island is an ideal place for building a sustainable energy future “because of its incredible natural resources and expansive amount of available land.” Although neither Hirono or Kenoi commented on the growth potential of the farm, Aina Koa Pona expects the facility will produce 100 full-time farming and 300 construction jobs. —Luke Geiver 14 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

A Quest for Revival

Algae developer Biocentric Energy Holdings rebuilding after corporate collapse Biocentric President Michael Burton laid out his company’s plans for recovery in a corporate information statement released in January. “The company recently suffered a dramatic series of events in which the former board of directors abandoned the company and its operations, causing a traumatic series of events leading to the closure of the Santa Ana, Calif., corporate offices,” says Burton. While Biorefining Magazine was unable to reach Burton for further comment, his statement notes that legal council has been retained to address outstanding disputes along with debt accrued under the company’s previous management. The company’s Death Valley Junction project has been transferred to its joint venture partner, and a new board of directors is expected to be announced as soon as reasonably possible. In addition, Biocentric’s corporate headquarters and testing center has been relocated to Salt Lake City. The statement also notes that Biocentric has been working to restore relationships for algae-derived product orders from the company’s former operations while striving to fulfill the commitments for products to ensure revenue. According information provided by Biocentric, negotiations are also in process with an undisclosed private company with operations in the algae and green energy sectors for several exclusive licensing and distribution rights. —Erin Voegele


BioSolar’s biobased backsheets for photovoltaic solar modules reach new milestone


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On Target Cereplast CEO Frederic Scheer says the firm’s supply and distribution arrangements are part of its aggressive growth strategy to establish a local presence in Europe.

Strategic Expansion

How one U.S.-based bioresin manufacturer is extending its reach into Europe Bioplastic sales may be lagging in the U.S., but that hasn’t deterred Cereplast Inc. from gaining a significant foothold in the European bioplastic marketplace. In doing so, the El Segundo, Calif.-based bioresin manufacturer managed to lock up several supply and distribution arrangements, most of which came in January with local European partners. The first supply and distribution agreement for Cereplast came with BioWorks PI, a division of Galant PLC, to supply its bioplastic resins to Poland’s market. Under terms of the agreement, BioWorks will distribute Cereplast Compostables Resins and Cereplast Sustainables Resins—resins made from renewable resources such as corn, wheat, tapioca and algae—to product and package manufacturers in Poland. Additionally, the company entered into supply and distribution agreements with Euroink Romania to supply its bioplastic resin in Romania and Italy-based ColorTec S.r.l. to supply its bioresin products to the Southern Italian and Slovenian markets. The company also has a supply and distribution agreement with RI.ME. Masterbatch, a leading European supplier of colorized resin used in the production of plastics. According to Cereplast CEO Frederic Scheer, the arrangements fall in line with the

company’s aggressive growth strategy to establish a local presence in Europe. “We are very active and proactive in signing such contracts,” Scheer tells Biorefining Magazine. “They are very important to us because I believe that is the best way to serve our clients, to speak their language and be present locally.” Much of the market demand for bioplastics resides in Italy, according to Scheer, which is driven in large part to a nationwide ban that was put on petroleum-based plastics that went into effect Jan. 1. Scheer says he expects other countries, such as France, Austria, Germany and Spain, to enact similar regulations, which should open the door for more sales potential of the company’s bioresin products. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Scheer says. “It’s quite significant at such a point that the European Union decided it will consider a general ban on polyethylene bags in all of Europe by 2014 or 2015. You’re probably looking at millions of tons of material there, which translates into a $4 to $5 billion market for bioplastics in Europe within the next three to four years.” In 2010, Cereplast’s total sales revenue hit $6.3 million, a 133 percent increase com-

pared to $2.7 million set in 2009. According to Scheer, 2010 sales were limited due to supply constraints on raw materials from midNovember through December. The supply of raw materials has improved this year with projected revenue for its first quarter to be $5 million to $6.5 million. With market potential already open in Italy for bioplastics and widening in other parts of the continent, Scheer forecasts revenue in 2011 to be $24 to $32 million, a 300 to 400 percent jump compared to last year. Although Cereplast has an office situated in Germany, Scheer says the company may consider the idea of building a bioresin production plant somewhere in Europe, either owned or jointly operated with a partner, to better serve its European clientele. “It’s definitely something that is on the radar screen that we’ll have to consider,” he says. Including Europe, Cereplast intends to continue expansion efforts in South America, Asia, as well as in the U.S. “You’ll see growth in the U.S., as well,” Scheer says. “The pressure and volatility of the price of a barrel of oil will really push the U.S. to use more and more bioplastics.” —Bryan Sims

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Mixing Oil with Renewables

Mascoma Corp. and its proposed cellulosic biorefinery have been given a big vote of confidence by the nation’s largest independent oil refiner, Valero Energy Corp. Valero has made an undisclosed investment in Mascoma and has signed a nonbinding letter of intent with Mascoma and its operating subsidiary Frontier Renewable Resources LLC, which is jointly owned with J.M.Longyear LLC, to support the construction of a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. Under the terms of the agreement, Valero will potentially invest up to $50 million in the project and enter into an off-take agreement for the facility’s entire ethanol production capacity. The proposed 40 MMgy facility is slated for development in Kinross Charter Township, Mich. The plant will employ Mascoma’s proprietary cellulosic production technology to convert hardwood pulpwood into ethanol. Unlike other cellulosic production processes, Mascoma’s technology combines hydrolysis and fermentation of both C5 and C6 sugars into a single step, says Justin van Rooyen, the company’s vice president of business development. “We intend to break ground mid- to late this year in Kinross,” van Rooyen says. “Construction time is anywhere from 18 to 22 months. The goal is to have the facility up and running early in 2013.”

A Salty Solution

Valero has been very active in the renewable fuels arena in recent years. The company has purchased 10 corn ethanol plants, most of them acquired through the VeraSun bankruptcy. “Those were relatively new Investing in Ethanol Valero Energy Corp. has signed a nonbinding plants,” says Bill Day, Valero’s ex- letter of intent to invest up to $50 million in Mascoma Corp.’s ecutive director of media relations. proposed cellulosic ethanol refinery in Kinross Charter Township, The facility will employ the same production process as “They have space for expansion, and Mich. Mascoma’s demonstration-scale plant in Rome, N.Y. we’ve said that as new technologies became available—including cellulosic—we cellulosic and advanced biofuel technologies in might be able to add those technologies to the the future that we could add to these faciliexisting plants.” ties—while still producing corn ethanol, Day Mascoma is one of several cellulosic com- continues. “We have been working a couple of panies Valero has become involved with, in- companies, looking at what might be available cluding ZaeChem Inc. and Qteros Inc. “Mas- on a commercial scale,” he says. “There is a coma, with this project, would be [building] lot of cellulosic ethanol being produced now the first real commercial-sized wood-based on a demonstration scale in small batches, but cellulosic ethanol plant in the country,” Day [Mascoma’s process] looks like the emerging says, noting that Valero’s involvement stems technology as far as getting cellulosic produced from its interest in knowing what the next gen- at a commercial level.” eration of biofuels will be. “That’s why we got However, Valero’s interest in advanced interested in cellulosic,” he continues. “This biofuels is not limited to cellulosic technoloproject with Mascoma will allow us to have a gies. According to Day, his company is also commercial-scale cellulosic plant in addition to developing a joint venture project with Darling the corn ethanol plants that we have.” International Inc. to produce renewable diesel. In fact, Day says that at some point Valero Construction on the plant, which will be built would like to add cellulosic or other advanced adjacent to an existing Valero oil refinery in fuel capacity to the corn ethanol plants it cur- Louisiana, is expected to begin in September rently owns. While corn ethanol is the technol- with completion in 2013. —Erin Voegele ogy of the present, we think there will be other

uses integrated seawater agricultural systems to support the development and commercialization of biofuel feedstock. The program will initially focus on the cultivation of salicornia, a salt-tolerant succulent. The Salicornia bigelovii strain has shown particular promise as a biofuel feedstock, says Jim Rekoske, Honeywell UOP’s vice president and general manager of Renewable Energy & Chemicals. The living laboratory project will be built on land that consists of only sand and water today. In addition to cultivating biofuel feedstock, the project will also produce fresh water and create a habitat for wildlife. “We think of this as an ecosystem development project, not

SBRC to cultivate Salicornia bigelovii as a feedstock for drop-in biofuels A living laboratory under development in Abu Dhabi region of the United Arab Emirates aims to make salt-tolerant, feedstock-derived energy commercially viable. The demonstration project will be led by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Center, a research organization founded by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Etihad Airways, the Boeing Co. and UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company. The flagship program developed by SBRC will be a five-year demonstration project that 16 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

a natural-oil production process,” Rekoske says. “There is a very large fraction of the world that does not have access to the type of arable land that would be necessary for traditional oil seed crops,” and this project will demonstrate a regionally-adaptable solution. Oils harvested as a result of the project will be transported to the U.S. for conversion into biobased jet fuel at Honeywell UOP’s demonstration-scale facility. That fuel could be used to complete demonstration flights within a three- to four-year timeframe. —Erin Voegele


Valero Energy Corp. invests in cellulosic ethanol and renewable diesel

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The Beginning, Middle or End? There is a lot of money and research at the front end and backend areas of algae development. Steven Wright wants to be somewhere in the middle. Wright, the vice president for North-Carolina based InnovaTech, a filtration and separation technology provider, might just have the technology to put his company where he wants it to be. For the past 18 years, the team from InnovaTech has been developing separation equipment centered on centrifuge technology. Now, the team has tweaked its model to provide an efficient solution for algal separation and dewatering. “We are combining principles of centrification with froth flotation,” Wright says of his CFT unit. The unit, which has already been tested at a North Carolina State University facility on 50 gallon photobioreactors, certainly shows that Wright and his team know what they are doing, but for the debate on where to be in the algae development process—cultivation, harvesting, separation, conversion, just to name a few—InnovaTech’s work might reveal a new


milestone for an industry battling constant outside questioning on where it will end up, and internal debate among industry leaders on where it should even start. Wright’s new algae harvester, which he describes as a stack of 45 RPM records inside a vessel that is capped on one end and open on the other, which looks similar to a centrifuge, indicates that in the internal debate perhaps no one is right. It would be hard to argue that strain manipulation work being done at some of the most advanced laboratories is a waste, or that algae farm developments in New Mexico are a wash, especially if one considers what Wright’s harvester could do for the industry. The process uses a precondition made up of a small amount of chemical and gas, Wright says. The spinning disc pack inside the unit sucks down the atmospheric pressure creating microbubbles. The microbubbles attach themselves to the larger algae pieces and through froth created from the spinning, the bubbles exit the unit. Because it can control the particle

biomass, as well as biomass from woody sources, which is another important area for us,” Rials tells Biorefining Magazine. “We’re very fortunate to have at our disposal for our R&D efforts 5,000 to 6,000 acres of switchgrass planted in the east Tennessee region. We’re interested in developing an understanding of the variability of chemical composition across that landscape.” Another area of focus for the CRC, according to Rials, will be how to better utilize coproduct streams. “We’ve also adopted and advocated the view of the biorefinery where chemical coproducts play a key role in defining or extending the feasibility of these processes for fuel production,” he says. The UTIA is working closely with ORNL in the development of lignin as a low-cost precursor for carbon fiber production. “We have quite a bit of research that’s looking at new transformation pathways for carbohydrates and sugars to industrial chemicals.”

Tennessee launches research facilities at Center for Renewable Carbon On Feb. 4, University of Tennessee personnel, as well as representatives from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and officials from state and local government attended a ribbon-cutting event to inaugurate the Center for Renewable Carbon within UT’s Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville, Tenn. According to CRC director Tim Rials, the new Bioenergy Science and Technology Laboratory will feature specialized facilities to support ongoing research involving biomass pretreatment and process measurement, biomass characterization and biomass conversion to fuels. Additionally, CRC research capabilities will include life-cycle analysis and a biomass fractionation reactor. “We have quite a bit of work underway relative to the characterization of switchgrass


Innovations are happening at every stage of algae, but where should the real focus be?

Interns at Work InnovaTech’s algae harvester was put to use at a North Carolina State lab, and run by interns for testing.

size that exits, Wright says the unit can allow for a continuous harvest of algae because the immature microorganisms would not be attached to bubbles and would not be removed but, instead, are returned to the bioreactors for further growth. More importantly, Wright’s work shows that there might just be a place for everyone in the algae industry. —Luke Geiver

Additionally, the CRC’s Bioenergy Production and Carbon Cycling Program will research environmental topics, including the relationships between land use, bioenergy crops and carbon sequestration, according to Rials. The CRC consolidates existing bioenergy and biomaterials research programs. The UT Biofuels Initiative will continue work to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of cellulosic fuels. This effort involves a collaboration between UT and Genera Energy, the State of Tennessee and DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol. The SunGrant Initiative, a federal effort that predates the Biofuels Initiative, will continue to coordinate research into the development of alternative energy from renewable carbon sources. “To be able to develop the structure that facilitates that interdisciplinary R&D, we’re much more likely to be able to resolve some of these biofuels-related challenges,” Rials says. —Bryan Sims

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 17



The Trojan Horse Enzyme Exogenous enzyme cocktails used in cellulosic ethanol production are more effective than they’ve ever been, but if Masood Hadi’s work on the Trojan Horse of enzymes works the way he thinks it does, forget about the need for those extravagant enzyme mixtures. Hadi, a biochemist from Sandia National Laboratory, has been working on a genetically modified plant that houses what he has coined a Trojan Horse type of enzyme that, when put through a traditional deconstruction process typically used with cellulosic material, becomes resurrected and chews up the cellulosic material on the way to sugar production. The research, which Hadi has been working on for the past three years, is based on a process that embeds an endoglucanase enzyme into a genetically modified plant like Arabidopsis, tobacco or a model of switchgrass. “The enzyme is engineered in such a way that it is catalytically dead,” he says. At least, Hadi says, until the plant housing the embedded enzyme is put through a deconstruction process. “Before that,” he explains, “the enzyme is just a protein,” but once the deconstruction process, such as a dilute acid treatment, happens, the enzyme is activated. In a typical dilute acid

process, exogenous enzymes become active at roughly 120 degrees Celsius, but using Hadi’s embedded enzymes, activity would start at only 80 degrees. After working to engineer the enzymes, Hadi began working with the USDA to perform the plant transformations and characterizations before bringing the plant material back to his lab to complete structure function relationship tests that Helping with Horsepower Craig Taatjes is an engine combustion specialist indicated the amount of sugar who is working with Masood Hadi on multiple projects at Sandia National the plants were producing. The Laboratory. results of the tests to this point show that for from Sandia, Hadi is involved in a fungi-based pumping out sugar, “all you needed was that project aimed at finding certain types of fungi one enzyme and you would get a lot more that produce hydrocarbons more suitable for sugar,” Hadi says. “In this process, you don’t today’s combustion engines. Hadi’s role in the have to add any exogenous enzymes—we’ve effort will remain in his field of biochemistry, looking at the pathways through which selected completely eliminated the need.” The work to create a “resurrectable” en- fungi strains produce the volatile organic comzyme is not complete yet according to Hadi, pounds most compatible with combustion. and while his efforts will continue to perfect The fungi-combustion project is expected to the process, he isn’t solely focused on enzymes. take roughly three years. —Luke Geiver With the help of engine combustion experts


This enzyme is just like it sounds, hidden and dormant, until the right conditions occur

Cellulosic ethanol fuels EcoTrek national tour What better method to test an advanced biofuel like cellulosic ethanol than to run it under real-life conditions? That’s what EcoTrek Foundation driver and founder Tom Holm did when his Ford F-250 truck logged 10,000 miles during EcoTrek’s “Best of America Tour” fueled on an E85 blend of cellulosic ethanol supplied by Poet’s 11 MMgy cellulosic facility in Scotland, S.D. Launched Jan. 11 at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles—the base of historic Route 66—the tour made its way to cities on the East Coast, including Washington and New York with stops in-between at national parks, farms, cities and other venues to promote cel18 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

lulosic ethanol. The trek concluded on March 11 back on the Santa Monica Pier. “Everyone wants to hear this message,” Holm tells Biorefining Keep on Truckin’ From Los Angeles to the East Coast, Holm’s Ford F-250 logged 10,000 miles running on E85 from cellulosic ethanol provided by Poet’s 11 MMgy Magazine. “[Cellulosic facility in Scotland, S.D. ethanol] is something that can help the American economy, the cross-country journey, Holm says, adding American farmer and our national security. that the fuel didn’t pose any problems. The timing is just right.” “Any research that we do we’re going to According to Holm, no engine modi- release that information,” he says. “Everyfications were done on the truck. EcoTrek thing has worked out well given the extreme acted as an objective third party during the conditions during the winter.” —Bryan Sims

photo: Tom Holm, EcoTrek Foundation

Coast to Coast

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Biological Data: Enhanced

DOE grant will improve bioinformatics Metabolic engineers within the field of bioenergy are constantly on the lookout for more reliable bioinformatic tools that can help accelerate their research. With help of a threeyear, $1.25 million grant from the U.S. DOE, Menlo Park, Calif.-based SRI International intends to make this task easier when it expands its MetaCyc database and enhances its Pathway Tools software. The upgrades are anticipated to give SRI’s bioinformatics tools even greater utility. MetaCyc, a database that contains 1,500 metabolic pathways and 5,700 enzymes from more than 2,000 organisms within SRI’s BioCyc collection, is an extensive database comprised of experimentally determined, and literature-curated metabolic pathways by a wide range of scientific fields of academia. Pathway Tools software will draw on data in SRI’s databases to generate alternative pathways to create a target compound from specified feedstocks, according to Ron Caspi, scientific database curator for SRI’s bioinformatics research group.. SRI’s software can also evaluate each pathway’s utility to produce specified target compounds, thereby allowing researchers to quickly identify and evaluate multiple pathways, design effective research protocols and shorten development timeframes. According to Caspi, SRI will expand its

Under Review

MetaCyc database to include energy-related metabolic pathways and enzymes associated with lignocellulosic biomass degradation, hydrogen production, biofuel and microalgae oil production. Microbial Breakdown A comparative genome browser—the colors indicate orthologs The expansion will alsource: Ron Caspi, SRI International low the Pathway Tools software to recognize bioenergy-related path- researchers in metabolic engineering of new or ways in sequenced microbes. This upgrade modified pathways. The tool, he adds, would will result in more accurate metabolic pathway let a researcher specify a starting compound reconstructions and enable researchers and and an end compound, including any desired scientists to develop new ways to produce fuel intermediates. and other valuable products from biomass and “It would then scan the metabolic potenmicroorganisms. tial of that organism, as well as the large collec“In bioenergy today, a lot of the work has tion of metabolic enzymes available in Metato do with genomics because people have real- Cyc and come up with potential metabolic ized the power of having the sequenced infor- routes that connect those two compounds via mation and working at the level of an organism the desired intermediates,” he says. rather than a protein here and a protein there,” The upgrade of SRI’s MetaCyc database, Caspi says. “So, people have taken the first step according to Caspi, should be a boon for imand committed tremendous resources into se- proved computational approaches that lend quencing many of their relevant organisms. themselves to more predictable genomic inThe next step is to put it to good use.” formation access. “I think the [biorefining inIn addition to enhancing its MetaCyc dustry] will find this software very useful,” he database, Caspi says that SRI intends to add says. —Bryan Sims a new function to Pathway Tools that will aid

DOE’s project portfolio. “This process allows the Department of Energy an opportunity to obtain meaningful feedback regarding taxpayer-funded program activities in a manner that is understandable to our stakeholder public,” a member of the DOE tells Biorefining Magazine. “The information will be useful as the Biomass Program considers future funding and portfolio decisions.” So how did the presenters do? While the full report and findings from the meetings have yet to be determined, the mood during the meetings was “excellent,” according to the DOE. Using a one through five rat-

26 bioenergy companies met in Washington to prove their worth What do these companies, Poet, Mascoma, Sapphire Energy and Elevance Renewable Sciences, among many others, all have in common? Over three days, each company was given nearly an hour to describe their production processes and their results to a designated list of experts who were listening for one reason: project review. The meetings, held in Washington and hosted by the U.S. DOE, were meant to focus on “deployment projects” that are currently a part of the

ing system (five being the best), the reviewers grade each presentation using five criteria to rate each project: relevance, approach, technical progress, success factors and future research. In 2009, Abengoa received an average score of 4.5 for the company’s presentation, while Poet’s Project Liberty averaged a 3.6. While it might be hard to gauge the true value of a given “score” on the future success of a project, it’s safe to say that any hype or positive talk coming from the leading biorefinery-based companies isn’t subject to review. —Luke Geiver

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How building relationships with local partners can help overcome obstacles and maximize benefits to scaling up overseas by Erin Voegele

As President Obama emphasized in his State of the Union address, America features the world’s greatest innovation machine. This is clearly demonstrated by the sheer volume of biochemical startups our nation has produced in recent years.

While America leads in innovation and technology development, scaling up those processes overseas is often an attractive option for domestic companies. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of incentives in the U.S., lower construction and operational costs, greater feedstock availability and access to downstream markets. It is important for these companies to understand that no matter where they choose to site projects—whether in North America, Southeast Asia or Brazil—they will encounter different sets of benefits and challenges. Each region is unique. Local customs, political environments, laws, regulations and resources all need to be addressed in order to develop a successful project. For many companies, the formation of local partnerships seems to be the most advantageous way to navigate the complexities of these markets. Each biorefining company is unique, and each has its own set of factors to consider when siting a project. BioAmber Inc. is currently finalizing the site for a North American plant and is in discussions with a consortium to construct another in Southeast Asia. “These are firm projects that are underway,” says J.F. Huc, BioAmber’s president and CEO, noting that his company is also exploring the possibility of building a plant in South America. According to Huc, BioAmber looks at four primary factors when scouting locations for a plant. First is the cost to serve customers. This includes feedstock, utility and final shipping costs. “Tied closely to the supply chain is feedstock availability,” he says. “The more abundant the supply of feedstock, or the variety

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 21

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the extent to which an end market exists in a region,” he continues. “Third is, of course, regional incentives, what’s being offered and how interested is that country or region in getting into the biochemicals business.” A variety of secondary factors also considered includes energy costs, logistics, workforce availability, trade structure, and import and export duties.

Global Expansion BioAmber already operates a demonstration-scale plant in France, and is working to develop commercial-scale operations in North America and Southeast Asia. The company is also exploring the possibility of constructing a plant in Brazil.

of feedstocks available, the more likely you are to manage the cost of your raw materials. In places like Thailand, being able to switch from sugarcane to tapioca gives you a hedge against a sharp spike in one or the other.” “The second very important consideration for us is local partners,” Huc says, adding that he believes it is necessary to find local partners who can access the best labor pools and subcontractors, oversee the engineering and construction of the plant, operate the plant effectively and contribute to feedstock security. “That is particularly important in places like Brazil, where you have large, integrated sugarcane producers.” Third is government support for nondilutive funding. This doesn’t necessarily mean access to grants, but includes the availability of financing mechanisms like low-interest loans and loan guarantees to help defray the cost of capital, Huc says. The final consideration for BioAmber is what Huc calls the specificities of the site. This includes proximity of infrastructure, including electrical service, truck weighing stations, rail spurs, and waste water management systems. “These are all things that often will be pre-existing on a site and can significantly reduce your initial capital expense,” he says. NatureWorks LLC has its own unique set of considerations, and is actively vetting sites for additional production capacity. Market demand for the company’s Ingeo bioplastic has 22 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

Once a location is chosen for a new plant, most biorefining companies seem to be making it a priority to find reliable local partners. Glycos Biotechnologies Inc. is in the process of developing a plant in Malaysia. In fact, the company had a team on the ground in January working to hire a construction partner. Malaysia is a very friendly environment to develop this type of project, says GlycosBio CEO Richard Cilento. “The government really has a long-term business plan—or strategy—to bring in new technologies and new industries into the country.” GlycosBio has formed a partnership with two government corporations, the Malaysian Biotechnology Corp. and Bio-XCell, to help expedite development of its plant. While these corporations will not have any ownership in the project, Cilento notes they have been invaluable in helping the project succeed. These government corporations have formed an industrial biotechnology park where they have plots and utilities in place for companies like GlycosBio. The entities also

been growing by approximately 25 to 30 percent a year, says Steve Davies, NatureWorks’ director of marketing and public affairs. Current projections indicate that the entire capacity of the company’s Nebraska plant will be sold within the next three years, making it necessary to construct additional capacity to meet demand. A new location will have to be chosen for this capacity by midyear in order for the additional capacity to be brought online in the 2014-‘15 timeframe. NatureWorks is currently exploring options in both North America and Southeast Asia. While Davies stresses that additional production is highly likely to be installed in both regions in the future, the decision where the first expansion takes place is expected to be based, in part, on locally available incentives. NatureWorks looks at three primary factors when considering locations for a plant, Davies says. No. 1 is the availability of feedstock— not just feedstock currently employed by its process, but also the availability of lignocelMeeting Demand Increasing demand for NatureWorks Ingeo bioplastic means that additional production capacity will have to be brought online. The company lulosic feedstock for fuis currently considering locations in North America and Southeast Asia for the ture use. “The second is establishment of a plant similar to the one it already operates in Nebraska.


PHOTO: BioAmber Inc.

Partnering for Success

serve as a resource that supports hiring needs and the formation of off-take and feedstock supply agreements. “It would be like finding a needle in a haystack to really try to understand the local market and [identify] the right essential partners on the operational execution side,” Cilento says. “This [partnership] is a tremendous benefit. It would be very difficult to do this without such a partner.” The partnership also helps to instill local confidence in the project. “The biochemical market is still in the early stages, so you’re trying to demonstrate a technology that is really cutting edge,” Cilento continues. “A partner like that gives the market confidence. They provide a lot of credibility.” Alternatively, Myriant Technologies Inc. is pursuing an overseas project via an agreement to develop a joint venture that was signed with the PTT Chemical Group of Thailand. “To try to develop a project from half a world away is enormously costly and time consuming,” says Sam McConnell, Myriant’s senior vice president for corporate development. “It’s hard enough to do here in the U.S., but to serve markets in Asia we sat


international |

Proving a Process BioAmber Inc.’s demonstration-scale plant in Pomacle, France, converts wheat-derived glucose into biobased succinic acid.

down and decided we really need a local partner who understands how to get things done and has the necessary resources.” Even before the agreement with PTT Chemical was signed, McConnell says Myri-

ant was already looking to develop a project in Southeast Asia, largely because of the incentives that are available. “A number of countries, including Thailand, have been pretty aggressive in looking to attract high-

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international |

tech manufacturing, so the fact that PTT Chemical is in one of those countries was certainly another big plus,” he says. NatureWorks’ strategy in the Southeast Asian marketplace could vary from establishing a local partnership with locally based companies, to simply establishing a local presence itself, says Davies. “We’ve already done that on the sales and marketing end,” he continues. “We have local sales and marketing teams based in China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.” Those locally sourced teams are great at addressing challenges associated with language, customs and logistics, Davies says. When selecting local partners for a project, Huc notes that you want to target partners who have a track record of building and operating similar facilities, such as ethanol or chemical plants. “When I say good track record, I mean they haven’t run into problems from an environmental or permitting standpoint, or security. They haven’t had a lot of accidents onsite—the companies that build projects on-time and on-budget and have privileged relationships with local trades and subcontractors.”

IP Protection

One area of particular concern for many companies is the protection of intellectual property (IP). Anytime you build and operate a plant, you are going to develop a lot of know-how that you are not necessarily going to patent, notes Huc. When you bring technology into a new area, intellectual property of all kinds can be very difficult to manage. “You can have IP leakage during the planning and engineering stage, you can have IP leakage during the operation phase,” Huc notes. “In our experience, the best way to manage that type of IP leakage is to have strong, local partners who have a degree of influence on the authorities that are responsible for IP protection, and have some dissuasive influence on individuals.” “I think [IP theft] is something that has happened quite extensively in China, but you are also vulnerable to it in other Asian countries,” Huc says. “The real risk is that you have somebody who appropriates your process know-how and replicates what you are doing right down the street. Most countries will claim to have preventative laws now. The 24 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

It is important for these companies to understand that no matter where they choose to site projects—whether in North America, Southeast Asia or Brazil—they will encounter different sets of benefits and challenges. Each region is unique. problem is when something like that happens, despite having laws in place, you often find yourself having very little recourse, particularly in countries that have large domestic markets for your product. You have recourse if they infringe on your intellectual property and then export it into a market like the U.S., where you do have strong laws and precedence, but if you are in a country like China or South Korea, where there is a large local market, it’s very difficult for you to stop them from selling it domestically, especially if they are not dealing with foreign currency.” However, Cilento notes that, in some regions, IP protection isn’t really a challenge. Rather, it is something that companies need to be aware of and manage from the beginning. “Many of the countries in Southeast Asia were born from U.K. law as colonies of the U.K. years and years ago,” he says. These countries understand that people question the security of IP in their region. “They go out of their way to differentiate themselves from different parts of the world where IP control and theft are more prevalent. Certainly in Malaysia and Singapore, they really try to put their best foot forward to give us some comfort.”

Managing Logistics

Another primary challenge when developing a project overseas is the need to be able to manage that project from half a world away. In other words, a company’s

physical presence can be difficult to manage. “For new technologies, the commissioning and ramp-up of the plant are very, very important,” Huc says. “That expertise tends to reside within the company that is deploying the technology. The further you are from your headquarters and where your engineers are, the more difficult it is to oversee that. To manage that complexity, you have to send people abroad for long periods of time.” The time difference is certainly a challenge as well, notes Cilento. “You are looking at a 10- to 13-hour time difference,” he says. “Travel to and from is easily a two or three day process, that’s without recovery time after you get back. You have to really invest a lot of time and energy in travel. You need to be able to take advantage of technologies like video conferencing and other techniques to minimize these challenges. Hiring both laborlevel and senior management level employees is something that is not insurmountable, but without any critical mass or resources in country, you are really starting from scratch.” That said, Cilento notes that GlycosBio is not anticipating any problems finding qualified employees. Malaysia features a large petrochemical industry and has also been very active in medical biotechnology. Assimilating those skills and professionals to industrial biotechnology shouldn’t be that difficult, he says. However, Cilento also notes that it is important to take time during local visits to meet with the local people and begin the recruiting process very early on in a project’s development. As biorefining companies continue to expand and establish new production facilities around the world, certain challenges will be diminished, while others will remain. With each plant a company builds, the deployment of the technology itself will become more streamlined, says Huc. This is because after a company builds and operates a few plants, it will have gained knowledge to enable the design of more robust engineering packages. However, the establishment of each new location around the globe will still be complex in terms of finding the right partners and scaling up in a new cultural environment. Author: Erin Voegele Associate Editor, Biorefining Magazine (701) 540-6986

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Attention to Detail Richard Gross, professor of chemical and biological science at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, also founder of SyntheZyme, and Jing Hu, a doctoral student in Gross' research group, analyze omega-hydroxyfatty acid samples at NYU-Poly. PHOTO: COURTESY OF POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE OF NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

26 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

industry |

Scaling Up



Is a massive build-out of the chemical sector imminent? By Bryan Sims

It took a heavy dose of federal subsidies, equity, venture capital and private and public investment to scale up ethanol and biodiesel technologies capable of commercial production. The generation of robust biofuels industries

led to a revision of the renewable fuel standard, RFS2, which the U.S. EPA implemented in July, and now, with a mandated consumption of 1.35 billion gallons of advanced biofuel in place for the year, a proliferation of biobased chemicals is expected follow. Recognizing that biobased chemicals are a significant component within the overall biorefining movement in competition with the petrochemical sector, the U.S. DOE revised its original biorefinery grant program in 2009 when it included a biochemical pathway for biobased chemical production, in addition to biofuels, for qualification of funds. The DOE’s original biorefinery grant opportunities went to the production of biofuels. Grant qualification for fuels hinged on stringent ASTM specification requirements. The inclusion of biobased chemicals in the DOE’s most recent biorefinery grant program marks a pivotal time for the sector in its scale-up efforts for commercialization, according to Mark Warner, vice president of process industries for Seatte-based engineering firm Harris Group Inc. “The more biofuels we make, the more it will put things out of balance unless biochemicals come along with it,” Warner tells Biorefining Magazine. “It does seem like, from an energy perspective, that the DOE and the government are seeing it more and more important that, as you make

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 27



more biofuels, biobased chemical development must also grow so that the existing petroleum market doesn’t get out of balance. We’ve really started to emphasize and target biochemicals because we really think that’s going to be a strong emerging sector in the next three to five years.” Nevertheless, biobased chemical developers will inevitably combat similar technological and economic scale-up challenges as they make inroads into the biorefining landscape. For biobased specialty chemical producer Blue Marble Biomaterials, many of the challenges associated with scaling up biology are inherently rooted in microbial biology, according to CEO Kelly Ogilvie. Having already demonstrated its technology at a 1 ton per day (tpd) pilot facility in Seattle, the company has scaled up to a 3 tpd plant in Carvallis, Mont. Using its proprietary Acid, Gas and Ammonia Targeted Extraction process technology, Blue Marble is capable of producing an array of biobased chemicals such as ethyl butyrate for the food and flavoring industries and propyl butyrate for the cosmetics and fragrances markets from an array of cellulosic feedstocks such as agricultural waste, spent brewery grains, microalgae, corn silage and more. “We’re good at our biology and we’re good at our technology but, as a small company, we’re not necessarily good at scale, and that I think is the biggest challenge facing a lot of companies,” Ogilvie says. “Scale issues, as far as going from small to major reactions and to process that material and sell into the marketplace, are all challenges that have to be overcome.” Many new biobased specialty chemical offerings, particularly batch operations, can be scaled up directly from bench-scale to a manufacturing plant by developing the process while concurrently performing lab testing with scale up in mind. Biochemical process technologies are often scaled up in stages from the lab to pilot-scale or semiworks scale to obtain engineering data for commercial plant design. A staged scale-up approach may not necessarily be the most practical for biobased chemicals, however, as they’re often characterized by multistep batch syntheses and relatively low volume even though speed to market and rapid ramp-up are essential for commercial success. 28 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

Alignment of Interests

Of course, a scale-up strategy would not be initiated or achieved if a significant amount of funds were not available for the purchase of larger equipment or working capital to continue R&D efforts. One way a biochemical developer can secure funding and accelerate its scale-up efforts is to form strategic partnerships with firms entrenched in established industries that employ similar biotechnological fermentation routes, have access to sugar or starch feedstocks, and can offer distribution services for end products. Brooklyn, N.Y.-based SyntheZyme, which has been working off DARPA grants and with support from Polytechnic Institute of New York University, believes there’s enough fermentation capacity around the world already, according to Guy Penard, a consultant to SyntheZyme. The company employs a biocatalytic fermentation pathway that uses a genetically modified strain of Candida tropicalis that, when fed on plantbased fatty acids, is capable of producing large quantities of monomers called omegahydroxyfatty acids. When polymerized, they form a polymeric bioplastic material that could be used as a viable substitute for petroleum-based polyethylene. “We’ve talked to larger fermentation firms that have experience with this type of process,” Penard says. “There’s enough fermentation capacity available around the world to [support not building] your own plant. Why invest in building your own plant when a biochemical firm can integrate its unique processes with existing facilities that already employ biological processes?” According to Ogilvie, tapping into expertise of established models, such as the beer and wine industries, has helped his company in scaling up. “They’ve taken reactions that happen at the nanometer [level] and have gone to massive scale,” he says. “So what we’ve done early on is partner with mid-scale breweries and tried to tie in their institutional knowledge and expertise, and historical knowledge, on how to do this stuff.” Blue Marble, which was one of a handful of early-stage biochem firms that managed to secure seed money and closed on a Series A round of financing in 2008, also formed a strategic partnership with global chemical

distributor Sigma-Aldrich to help with quality assurance procedures and introduce its biobased products to market this year. “It’s not like the boom days of 2006‘07 where you could just walk up and get a loan from a bank,” Ogilvie says. “But, if you have a real project, real partners with offtakes or what looks like off-takes in the near future, banks are much more willing to get involved.” Whether its employing a bolt-on strategy or planning a stand-alone production plant, Warner agrees that strategic partnerships help bring forth new biobased chemical technologies and their products to market. “You’re seeing more of that corporate commitment than what it’s been the past few years,” Warner says. “What we worry about in the end is bankability. Is somebody going to loan money to this project? Having a partner certainly doesn’t hurt.” In addition to forming strategic alliances for off-takes, access to feedstock or potential financial backing, selecting the right EPC firm, like Colorado-based Merrick & Co., can significantly aid in scale-up efforts. The company has a proven track record of guiding its advanced biofuel and biochemical clients, such as Range Fuels Inc. and OPX Biotechnologies, to commercialization. Aside from being a traditional EPC firm, Merrick offers business consulting services that help clients avoid costly surprises during scale-up efforts, according to technical specialist Bart Carpenter. “We’re very adept at helping clients with the business planning portion of the project, such as decision and risk analysis,” Carpenter says. “We can also build out a risk-weighted pro forma to help guide not only their process technology, but also their process development or their R&D efforts to help them figure out what they need to focus on before they make it commercial-ready.”

Overcoming Technical Hurdles

Addressing technical issues associated with the scaling up of biochemical processes and figuring out ways to overcome these challenges is a daunting task for any developer. Common technical issues that are typically addressed before and during scale-up involve isolation and separation of desired product from water and other contaminants.

industry |

“Typically, because of the toxicity of the product to the microbe, you end up making a very dilute product,” Carpenter says. “You might have 3 to 4 percent product and the rest is water. You have to figure out a way to economically recover that without wasting profit on energy costs.” While several methods exist and are employed to separate water from the desired product, such as distillation, membrane systems and chromatography, a biochemical producer can rely on conventional technology before improved recovery and separation equipment for biobased chemicals come to market. “You can use distillation with brute force, but that’s not necessarily the most effective way to go forward in the future,” Ogilvie says. “We’ve been looking for technology solutions as we scale. We are constantly surveying the landscape for lateral or upstream technologies to integrate into our process to make us more efficient.” According to Penard, an advantage to SyntheZyme’s process is that its pathway

uses the chemical outside of the organism, which makes product separation easier. “We certainly do expect we’ll have scale-up issues, but we don’t believe them to be major ones that will keep us from building larger scale plants,” Penard says. Another common technical challenge that biochemical developers must be mindful of is that the physical form, purity or performance of the product may change as their processes make the transition from the lab to pilot- or demonstration-scale. Since more biobased specialty chemicals are expected to enter into the food and cosmetic markets, a greater magnitude of quality is placed on those products, a requirement that biofuels don’t necessarily have to worry about as much, according to Ogilvie. “Butanol, for example, could be between 80 and 90 percent pure whereas our chemicals have to be 99.8 or 99.7 pure,” he says. “Biochemicals have to specifically function a certain way. If you get a certain level of toxins in there, it might hurt people if they’re consuming them as food flavorings

as opposed to a fuel blendstock that gets poured in the tank of a car. It’s a different level of scrutiny that I think will separate the different levels of sophistication and purity that you’re going to see in the marketplace for renewable chemicals.” For biochemical firms that are considering or are in the middle of scale-up initiatives, directing resources and funding to refine one component at a time will yield greater results, according to Warner. “Only prove what you have to prove,” he says. “Don’t overcomplicate things. If you can license other technology outside of the core technology of your own intellectual property, do it. Maybe you think your pretreatment or your recovery process is a little better, but if there are commercially available options, use them for now and only prove what you have to.” Author: Bryan Sims Associate Editor, Biorefining Magazine (701) 738-4974

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project development

Construction Combinations Firms such as Evergreen Engineering can find ways to combine the best pieces of equipment from a wide array of vendors. PHOTO: EVERGREEN ENGINEERING

30 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

project development |

g n i d l i Bu Ideas Engineering firms may tout experience or know-how, but who’s the best biorefinery builder? By Luke Geiver

A little advice from a patent attorney with a background in organic chemistry and years of experience working in Chevron’s biofuels space can go a long way. Just ask Sam Yenne, CEO and co-founder of Maverick Biofuels. He listened and now, Yenne and his team at Maverick, which

includes patent attorney David Bradin, the company’s chief technology officer, are moving their vision to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) and other nonedible feedstock into an operating facility in North Carolina. Although Maverick may look like an all-star team with names like Texaco, IBM, Ohio State University and Rutgers’ Law School on the list of former employers, Yenne has some advice of his own for other startups, technology providers or project developers looking to take the next step in the process of upgrading that, given the source, sounds overly humble. Yenne, who has a doctorate in plant physiology, a master’s in business administration from Duke University and 20 years of work developing biotechnology companies, admits that while his background in commercializing technologies is extensive, he doesn’t know everything. His advice: “Don’t be afraid to admit that.”

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 31

project development



Pull-Ups While some EPC’s focus solely on the construction phases of a project, other firms act as an early-stage partner, helping to pull plans from paper to reality.

Because Yenne and his team decided that “the final answer” for arriving at the right technology and the right plans for the future facility “would be best derived from a team of smart people,” as opposed to a single vision, Maverick will break ground on a pilot-scale demonstration facility this year, according to Yenne. Even at a small scale, the Maverick story reiterates that a commonly held belief also applies to biorefinery build out—you don’t have to know everything, you just have to know the people who do.

Engineering a Plan

The technology that will eventually be employed at the Maverick facility has been around for more than 100 years. Yenne and his team have tweaked it, however, and by doing so, will be able to produce what they call mixed alcohols. The technology, Yenne says, uses gasification to produce syngas, which is then converted by two catalyzed reactions. The first is a modified FischerTropsch reaction altered to produce short carbon chains rather than the traditional, longer FT ones. The shorter carbon chains

32 | Biorefining Magazine | march 2011

with double bonds, or olefins, are hydrated with water in the second reaction to create a mixed alcohol of two-, three- or fourcarbon alcohols that can be blended with gasoline the same way ethanol is today. Because the process doesn’t produce any methanol, Yenne says the energy content in the liquid is about 85 percent that of gasoline. Even though the process to make the alcohols is based on proven technology that utilizes established equipment, Yenne says that during early discussions, potential partners and investors were focused instead on one thing: What is it going to cost? “We could start to make some stabs at that,” Yenne says, “but we couldn’t get down to the nitty-gritty details.” Unable to answer questions such as how many compressors the facility would need, or where to compress the gas between each step, the team went in search of engineering support, both internally and externally. Today, the team employs an in-house engineer that Yenne says helps “to talk the engineering language and translate back and forth” because, he adds, “one of the things you

are going to recognize as you start to build these biorefineries is that there are lots of technology challenges within them.” Armed with an in-house engineer, Maverick went in search of an engineering firm that could help develop and refine the Maverick vision. After visiting with several different firms, Yenne and his team chose Professional Project Services out of North Carolina to, as Yenne explains, “invest in Maverick Biofuels.” And that was part of its selection criteria—that the engineering firm had to believe in what Maverick was doing, due to the long, committed relationship Yenne felt was part of the process of building a biorefinery with the help of an EPC contractor. “We’ve worked with companies like Maverick before,” says Chris Bailey, CEO of Professional Project Services, “and they are looking for more of a partner than they are for somebody with deep pockets and a big checkbook that is ready to put a shovel in the ground.” Having a partner helped to outline the business model the team would use in explaining the costs of operations to investors because, as Yenne

project development |

explains, engineering firms like PPS have a process that helps find the key critical answers related to both pilot-scale plants and commercial facilities. To find those answers, all efforts were focused on building a commercial facility to see exactly what all parties involved would need in the future. Not only did the commercial-first approach help estimate overall costs, the process also helped PPS to maximize the efficiency and product of the plant. “For example,” Yenne says, “we know we have three major steps in our process that are going to be heat producers.” So, recognizing the opportunity, PPS engineered a system to take advantage of that heat as a sellable product. So what does the Maverick story reveal about finding and utilizing the expertise of an engineering firm to construct an economically sound and efficient biorefinery? For starters, as Yenne points out, there are a number of different approaches to the process, but for his team, developing plans for the commercial goal first helped them to understand the variables that would be needed in the pilot facility, no matter what. The team, he says, also benefited from having an in-house engineer. Bailey points to the importance of choosing the right EPC provider, based on the experience some would have from working in similar fields. In this, PPS was the obvious positive for Maverick, Bailey says. PPS’ work in fabricating holding vessels, as well as in building, operating and maintaining chemical manufacturing facilities, all helps PPS understand the larger construction ideas that Maverick is trying to figure out. “It’s one thing to come up with an idea with a lot of high-level chemistry and process flow diagrams and make it work on paper,” Bailey says. But it’s different when it’s time for “build stage.” And, as Yenne advises, the most important thing to remember during the process is that the final answer will most likely come from a group of individuals, and should not come from a single perspective.

A Plan with Options

There are no cookie-cutter plans for

biorefineries now. Most likely, there never will be. So, while firms like PPS can utilize their experience gained during work on similar projects in similar fields, there could be more to finding the right “partner” than just experience. Evergreen Engineering is also gaining experience, but in a different way. After forming in 1985, the company has grown to more than 200 people in four different cities. To some, those numbers may actually seem small, but Jeff Mills, senior project manager says in the past five years, the group has been more involved in energy-based projects. The team is currently working with clients on processes to convert plastic bottles and agricultural residues into transportation fuel, and with another client on a torrefaction plant. The stages of development range from phase two research and development, to scaling up from mid- to large-scale. And Mills says that the functions of the company are different for each project. Evergreen is, in some ways, especially well-suited for the biorefining sector because of that. Look at one of the atypical services Evergreen provides. Mills says a lot of the early work the company performs for renewable energy projects comes in feedstock feasibility studies that define the quality and amount of feedstock available near a potential build site. “Nobody can be good at everything,” he says. “The guys that are developing a lot of these processes are usually not the guys that are talking to farmers, or are not the guys talking to the buyers and sellers of biomass.” Because of this, Mills has already worked with a number of clients who have relocated their potential sites after reviewing the Evergreen studies. Typically, Mills says the feedstock size and moisture content can greatly affect a project, and helping clients to understand the available options helps make Evergreen’s suite of services even broader. “We are usually not the developers of the process,” he says. “We are the guys that can tell them what is available and what it is going to look like.” Like PPS, Mills also touts his experience in similar fields as a true plus. After starting in the integrated

steel mill business, Mills moved to pulp and paper mills before taking over as senior project manager at Evergreen. As for the cookie-cutter model, Mills is adamant that there are none in the biorefining industry. But, to save time and make the process of build-out more efficient, he recommends using the parts and pieces that are readily available in the marketplace. That doesn’t mean that a project developer should just stick with one brand of equipment, however. One of the things Mills says developers will do is align themselves with a particular equipment provider. “The question that comes up is, is [the equipment] the best, and was it the most economical?” Although he tries to stick to what has already been proven, Mills doesn’t take the single-provider approach for the “parts and pieces.” Choosing an engineering provider doesn’t have to be as hard as moving innovative ideas from the page to the plant, and Maverick’s story shows that. For some, the best choice might be a partner that acts as an investor in a project, and works to design—or redesign in many cases—a plan. In other cases, information on feedstock sourcing or knowledge of best available equipment might be more important. And if employee size or a global presence is important, there are certainly the Fluor Corp.s of the EPC world that have signed with Cobalt Technologies and Fulcrum Bioenergy to develop their novel process ideas into biorefineries. But in the end, it might be best to remember the advice from that all-star team in North Carolina. “No one engineering firm is going to have all the expertise in-house,” Yenne says. “It will be beneficial to everyone to recognize that you may need to pull in bits and pieces from here and there to make the most efficient biorefinery.” Author: Luke Geiver Associate Editor, Biorefining Magazine (701) 738-4944

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Biorefining Technology Scale-Up Engineers’ perspectives on taking process technology from bench-scale to commercial production By Marc Privitera and Christina Borgese

There are few things more drop of at-rate, at-cost, on-spec the culmination of tireless efforts to scale satisfying in a chemical engi- product comes off a commer- up from idea to reality, and declares you neer’s career than when the first cial-scale system. That first drop is the champion for that moment. The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biorefining Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).

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Scale up begins by defining the factors, levels and responses captured from the bench development effort. A factor is a controllable variable, or knob, that can be

process |

turned to a level, or set-point. The response is the characteristic product measurement resulting from the factor at a specific setpoint. In feedstock characterization, a common factor is the moisture content, the level is the specific moisture percentage tested in the process system, and the response is the ultimate affect on product conversion. A designed experiment is a series of tests measuring factor interaction at varying levels to extract meaningful correlations on response affects. This allows an

engineer to set boundary limits on both incoming streams and process run conditions for the operators to follow to insure onspec product. Factors and responses are measurements that require validated test methods to ensure that decision making information is based on statistically proven repeatability and accuracy against a known standard. A scale-up ratio defines the geometric, kinematic, and dynamic similarities between scales. Scale-up ratios are primarily selected based on the technical novelty of the system and the acceptable level of project risk determined by the investors. Typical scale-up ratios range from 5-1 for a first of its kind application up to 100-1 for a tried-and-true technology. The factors, levels and responses create a two dimensional analysis of variance (ANOVA) or a three dimensional response surface originating from the bench scale. A model is developed from the correlations of the ANOVA. The first cut of the model is used to screen for main effects. The main effects are the factors that are the controllable, critical few. Using scale-up ratios, the pilot-scale is constructed and the predicted model from the bench-scale ANOVA is compared against actual pilot-scale run data. If the predicted values and the experimental data have a strong correlation, then the risk in using the same model and scale-up factors as a basis for the commercial scale is low. If the predicted values and the actual data have a weak correlation you must go

Historically the reactor has been the focus of scale-up. Biorefining presents challenges for input and output unit operation scale-up that could rival the reactor complexities. back to the bench-scale, adjust the model and note the differences until you develop a correlation that matches the acceptable risk profile of the project. In an emerging field such as biorefining, companies compete to bring their technology first to market. The first rush is to prove the technology in a beaker. Occasionally investors see a success on the lab bench and assume the scale-up should just be a matter of routine. This is where many efforts fail. The scale-up is rushed, steps are skipped because the understanding of the complexities of scale-up had not been clearly articulated and thus expectations are not met. The carnage begins. The unfortunate part is that the small failures along the path of the scale-up effort are where the big breakthroughs occur. However, if the team doing the scale-up is either underfunded, or over stressed trying to fit a preassumed, inflexible scale-up expectation, the real pot of gold can be missed. A scale-up plan must be a fluid, agile path that adapts as new information emerges. In developing a plan for an entire plant, each major unit operation must be individually scaled with clearly defined input and output streams. Output stream specification in biorefining begins with understanding the ASTM requirements for saleable product. Every renewable fuel has a few ASTM

march 2011 | Biorefining Magazine | 35



specification components that are difficult to meet. It keeps the riff raff out. These components need to be accurately measured to ensure that the material is within specification at the transfer of sale. Input streams are qualified using feedstock characterization. To avoid a possible

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“garbage in garbage out� scenario, the output stream ASTM requirements should be referenced with specific focus on the difficult components. The variations in a feedstock source are best identified by regular and rigorous sampling, testing, and processing of the actual feedstock that will be

utilized at the plant. As the feedstock is processed through each unit operation, the collective input variable factors typically reduce in number Engineering Excellence Marc as waste materials Privitera is a founding are removed. Thus, engineer of San Ramon, Calif.-based garbage in, and PreProcess Inc. good stuff out. Feedstock composition is source dependent and material properties must be empirically measured at process conditions to understand variations. Most biorefining feedstocks are mixtures of many constituents and these influence the overall bulk properties of the fluids. For example, manure is a mixture of volatile organic solids, water and other constituents, and published data on manure viscosity and density may not measure up to what is available at the plant. Viscosity and density are two common engineering fluid properties that are affected not only by the temperature and shear rate, but also greatly in the mixture composition that is present for the fluid. Historically the reactor has been the focus of scale-up. Biorefining presents challenges for input and output unit operation scale-up that could rival the reactor complexities. Three common reactors are a stirred tank batch reactor, a continuous flow batch reactor, and a plug flow reactor. An ethanol fermentor is a pH and temperature controlled stirred tank batch reactor. Yield is the typical response. The correlation between actual and experimental results is usually strong. Many installed anaerobic digesters are flow mixed covered lagoons. This is a rudimentary example of a continuous flow batch reactor. Hydraulic retention

process |


N = rpm




Tank Batch Reactor



Geometric Similarities Z/T: liquid depth to tank diameter D/T: impeller diameter to tank diameter B/T: baffle width to tank diameter C/T: clearance to tank diameter

Z (or H) depth of the liquid (ft) T diameter of the tank (ft) D diameter of the impeller (ft) N agitator shaft speed (rpm) W width the impeller cuts in the liquid (ft) C impeller clearance above bottom (ft) B width of the baffle (ft) Y depth of the tank bottom dish or cone (ft) V volume of the tank (gals)

sOurce: PreProcess Inc.

time (HRT) is the most significant scaling characteristic for sizing an anaerobic digestor system. Typically a lagoon style anaerobic digester has an HRT on the order of 25 to 30 days. The lagoon is sized to be able to handle the conversion of the volatile organic solids to methane based upon anticipated inlet flows. Temperature varies with the environment and economics have been marginal. To improve yield, anaerobic digesters have adopted temperature-controlled stirred tank batch reBiofuel Blondie actor configurations. Christina Borgese In a batch reactor gained this nickname that she embraces with an agitator, the while working with Biofuel Box. HRT reduces due to

the higher surface area of the solid particles with the substrates and the microbial action on the surface area driving the reaction kinetics. HRT for a well mixed batch reactor can be reduced in half. This enables the reactor itself to have a smaller volume and makes the temperature control and the economics of heating more advantageous due to higher heat transfer of mixing. With the volatile organic solids now uniform from the agitation and at a higher temperature these combinationally drive the reaction kinetics further reducing the HRT and improving the economics. The critical few factors and the geometric, kinematic, and dynamic scale ratios of a stirred tank batch reactor are shown in accompanying diagram. Columns are continuous flow catalytic bed reactors used for conversion of

biomass feedstocks into various products. The use of catalytic columns is becoming common in the emerging field of renewable diesel. Hydrogen is added to a catalytic column having been developed to selectively react the feedstock carbon chains to a blend of alkanes meeting the ASTM 975 diesel specification. Catalytic bed reactors are usually continuous plug flow reactors since the catalytic activity is a critical factor in the conversion efficiency. The plug flow regime must be carefully designed so that back mixing does not inhibit the developing progression of the reacting plug flow mass. The reactor scale-up is based upon space velocity with the alkane product concentration as the characteristic variable. Space velocity is a term from catalytic column reactor development terminology. Two common terms are liquid hourly space velocity or the weight hourly space velocity, one being volume and the other mass basis. This biorefining application has a long established history in the oleochemical refining industry and the technology has proven transferrable from the hydrogenation of fats, oils and grease. These prior industrial learnings can be applied as a basis for the scale-up using renewable feedstocks to supply the emerging renewable diesel markets. When scaling any reactor, do a reality check against the common reactor rules of experience. Do not be discouraged if new data and valid results are questioned by previous practitioners that may not support your findings. If you have done a rigorous scale-up and are confident in your results, then the new economical method will reap you the rewards. Authors: Marc Privitera, Christina Borgese Founding Engineers, PreProcess Inc.

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Biorefining Magazine - March 2011  

March 2011 BRM