Valero Energy invests in waste-to-fuel company

By Anna Austin
Waste-to-energy developer Terrabon LLC has received the first installment of an equity infusion of an undisclosed amount, from Texas-based oil refiner Valero Energy Corp.

Valero Energy owns and operates 16 oil refineries in the U.S. Its subsidiary, Valero Renewable Fuels, recently became the owner of bankrupt ethanol producer VeraSun Energy Corp assets, including five ethanol production facilities and a development site.

Terrabon said it intends to use the funds to accelerate commercial deployment of its MixAlco technology, an acid fermentation process which converts biomass materials such as municipal solid waste into fuel chemicals.

The MixAlco process works by first 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 their corresponding carboxylate salts, which are dewatered, concentrated, dried and thermally converted to ketones. The ketones are hydrogenated to alcohols and refined into renewable gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Terrabon believes the technology is economical for both large- and small-scale plants and that the plants can be built for about $2 per gallon.

In partnership with Texas A&M University, Terrabon currently operates a pilot plant at College Station, Texas, and is in the process of starting up an advanced biofuels research facility in Bryan, Texas, where the company will confirm MixAlco's commercial feasibility.

Terrabon is also working with the city of Port Arthur, Texas, to build a small plant designed to turn 50 tons of waste per day into organic salts, which would then be sent to a local refinery. Engineering work has started, and Terrabon is negotiating with the city on the use of the municipal waste and location of the project, according to the company.