January 16, 2013

Sweet future of cellulosic sugar

The blog has been gathering some information about the market for cellulosic sugar and since this industry seems to be still at its nascent stage, there is not really much to get unless I delve deeply into several technical journals that will probably take me months to understand.

What the blog knows and everybody in the renewable chemicals and biofuel market understand is that cellulosic sugar is a very big market opportunity as an alternative or supplementary feedstock for both energy and petrochemical industries. One fellow twitter noted a recent post by ICIS blogger Paul Hodges about average crude oil prices continuously sustained at over $100/bbl for two years in a row now.

This means, most of the biobased chemical intermediates currently being developed is already comparable -- and some even more competitive, than petrochemical-based intermediates. But the quest does not stop in just becoming cost-competitive, but also addressing the sustainability issues of feedstock being used for biobased chemicals and biofuel. The holy grail these days is to find use for waste streams or non-food crops (that don't need fertilizer, too much water, etc) and make them a profitable market.

And here enters sugars from cellulose, hemicellulose or lignocellulose. The key is to find a company skilled in pretreatment process and enzymes that can extract sugar in high yields and at low-cost.

The companies dealing with cellulosic sugar development and production (and it was hard for the blog to get this information since it doesn't cover feedstock that much) are Renmatix, Proterro, Comet Biorefining, Virdia, Sweetwater Energy, Beta Renewables (with its PROESA Technology), Old Town Fuel & Fiber, Blue Sugars, Edeniq, and SucreSource. I am sure there are more out there.

And so we come to the body of our post, which are recent developments in the cellulosic sugar sector.

Last week, Renmatix announced the commissioning of its BioFlex Conversion Unit (BCU), a multiple-feedstock processing facility at Renmatix's headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The event was attended by Secretary Tom Vilsack of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The new unit will test and convert a range of non-food plant materials such as hardwood, perennial grasses, agricultural residues, softwoods and waste streams through Renmatix's Plantrose process. The cellulosic sugars produced on-site via the BCU will support downstream fuel and chemical strategic partners, says Renmatix. By the way, BASF was one of Renmatix's current investors.

Here is a short explanation from Renmatix of how their process works.

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