Business Briefs

People, Partnerships & Deals
By Biorefining Magazine Staff | June 17, 2011

1. Montreal-based Enerkem Inc. announced in June the closing of $60 million in financing. Valero Energy Corp. became a new investor in the company as part of an equity round, joining existing investors Waste Management Inc., Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures and Cycle Capital. According to Bill Day, Valero’s executive director of media relations, the investment in Enerkem is one of a series of investments his company has made in renewable fuels and biofuels companies. “Valero itself does not do a lot of research or development into renewable fuels,” he says. “We prefer to do investments in companies that are doing that research, or in some cases, just buy the research itself.” He says Valero thinks Enerkem’s project is one of the more viable and practical of the emerging biofuel technologies. Day says Valero is very interested in integrating cellulosic technology into some of its 10 existing corn ethanol plants, and there are off-take possibilities for Valero and Enerkem as well. Credit Suisse acted as the agent for the financing round. The company also recently received $130 million in funding from the USDA and U.S. DOE to support the development of a plant in Pontotoc, Miss., expected to break ground in 2011. Construction is already underway on a 10 MMgy facility in Edmonton, Alberta.

2. Two Italian companies have formed a joint venture to build a biorefinery at a petrochemical plant in Italy. Through the agreement, Eni, an oil and gas company, and Novamont, a bioplastics and biobased products developer, will work to build a “biorefinery integrated in the local area,” according to the companies. The biorefinery will be refered to as a Green Centre and will be located at the Porto Torres petrochemcial plant owned by Eni. Eni will assist in the design, construction and management of the facility that will eventually produce biomonomers, biolubricants, biofillers, biointermediates or additives, elastomers and finally bioplastics, all of which will be produced from renewable resources like agricultural or municipal solid wastes. The two companies hope to create “supply chain integration with the development of local crops” as well. The center will cost roughly $18 million to build and the intial plans will follow a three-step approach. First, the joint venture will look to build facilities to produce biomonomers for bioplastics, biolubricants and additives. Second, a facility to build biofillers will be constructed, and third, greater capacity will be added.

3. Diamond Green Diesel LLC, a joint venture of Darling International Inc. and Valero Energy Corp., has secured financing for the construction of its renewable diesel plant in Norco, La. According to information released by Darling, the financing will be provided internally by Valero. The proposed 137 MMgy facility will be located adjacent to an existing Valero oil refinery, says Bill Day, Valero’s executive director of media relations. Darling will provide the joint venture project with feedstock from its rendering process, while Valero will oversee construction of the plant, Day adds. Construction on the facility is expected to commence later this year and be complete by the beginning of 2013. The joint venture originally sought a loan guarantee from the U.S. DOE to support the project. “That [process] was so burdensome and so slow and it ended up being so costly that the joint venture—Darling and Valero—decided to withdraw the application for the DOE loan guarantee,” he says. Instead, Valero will provide funding for the project. “It’s just easier and quicker that way.”

4. Biorefinery developer ZeaChem Inc. announced in June a binding multiyear joint development agreement with Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of ZeaChem’s product platform beyond C2 through commercialization of drop-in biobased chemicals and other products. ZeaChem’s process uses renewable feedstocks such as poplar trees and agricultural residues to produce the highest yield and lowest carbon emissions of any known biorefining technology, the company says. It has begun fermentation work on this new product platform using the same processes and equipment that the company used to prove and scale up its C2 product platform. The new platform also enables ZeaChem to ultimately deploy its technology for the production of other biobased chemicals as well as drop-in fuels. The two companies will utilize ZeaChem’s existing infrastructure at its lab in Menlo Park, Calif., pilot facility at Hazen Research in Golden, Colo., and demonstration-scale biorefinery in Boardman, Ore. Together, P&G and ZeaChem will research, develop and demonstrate, scale-up, and commercialize this new product platform.
5. Over the past few years, Novozymes has formed research partnerships to develop biomass-to-plastics, biomass-to-glycols and now, through early-stage collaboration, the company will be entering the biomass-to-food additives sector. Meihua Group, an agricultural processor based in China, has signed a framework agreement with Novozymes to develop an enzymatic process to turn ag residue such as corn stover and cotton stalks into sugar for use in food additives. The idea is to follow the enzymatic process created by Novozymes with a fermentation step that would allow Meihua to produce amino acids such as glutamic acid, lysine or threonine, all of which are used as food enhancers and nutritional supplements. Novozymes says there are still many unanswered questions about the partnership, but notes that “as the sugar fermentation strains used for amino acid production and ethanol production will request different sugar quality, purity and concentration…we expect different innovation is needed for the sugar production process for amino acid from biomass.” Novozymes says China is the world’s largest consumer of monosodium glutamate (MSG), using roughly 1.8 million tons per year of the flavor enhancer. The Meihua group is worth $800 million, employs 13,000 and already accounts for one-fifth of the MSG market in China. The country is developing so fast, says Meng Qingshan, chairman of Meihua Group, that the demand for food has outpaced the increase in food supplies.

6. An international collaboration of nine partners from seven countries has formed The BIOfuel Algae Technologies Project (BIOFAT) that focuses on the feasibility of producing ethanol, biodiesel and other bioproducts derived from microalgae on a commercial scale. Abengoa Bioenergia Nuevas Tecnologias, a subsidiary of Abengoa Bioenergy, will lead the transnational consortium drawn from the academic, industrial and public sectors for the project. ABNT centralizes its research and development activities and is focused on the production and development of biofuels for transport, including ethanol and biodiesel from biomass feedstock. Among others, the project includes the University of Florence (Italy), A4F-AlgaFuel (Portugal), Ben-Gurion University (Israel), Fotosintetica and Microbiologica (Italy), Evodos (Netherlands), AlgoSource Technologies (France), IN SRL (Italy) and Hart Energy. Specifically, BIOFAT aims to maximize the benefits from algae while minimizing environmental impacts. The development team will train on existing prototypes in Israel, Portugal and Italy, and then scale up the process to a 10-hectare (24.7 acres) demonstration plant—called an “algorefinery”—to be located in Spain. The process will begin with strain selection and proceed to biological optimization of the culture media, monitored algae cultivation, low energy harvesting and technology integration. The project, expected to last four years, will produce approximately 900 tons of algae annually. Funding was provided by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program, the EU’s primary instrument for funding research and demonstration activities from 2007 through 2013.

7. Australia-based mining company MBD Energy Ltd. has placed a firm order for a large-scale algae extraction system from California-based OriginOil Inc. to be installed at its coal power station in Tarong, Australia. The order by MBD Energy follows recent collaborative trials of OriginOil’s equipment focused on optimizing capacity to handle large volumes of algae on a continuous basis. The system on order, OriginOil’s Single Step Extraction Technology, is expected to process up to 1,100 liters (300 gallons) per minute of algae culture continuously, which would be enough to process the daily harvest at MBD’s one-hectare site at Queensland’s Tarong power station, according to OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry. Once the large-scale system is installed, the mobile unit will be deployed at future power station pilot sites. The 1 hectare facility will sequester the power station’s carbon dioxide-laden flue gas to feed a Bio-CCS (Biobased Carbon Capture and Storage) Algal Synthesizer. It will serve as proof of concept for a larger, second-stage facility of up to 80 hectares (197 acres) before being progressively scaled up to a larger third-stage facility.

8. Waste Management Inc. has forged a strategic investment in Delaware-based Agnion Energy Inc. to advance Agnion’s thermochemical gasification technology. Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Munich Venture Partners and Wellington Partners joined Waste Management in the investment. Agnion employs an indirect (or allothermal) gasification process that can convert solid biomass feedstock into rich hydrogen and carbon monoxide syngas ideally suited for combined heat and power applications. It can further be converted into liquids, hydrogen and methanol dimethyl ether and/or a substitute natural gas. With a pilot plant already demonstrating the viability of its process, Agnion is currently building a commercial facility in Grassau, Germany, to further validate its technology platform. Tim Cesarek, managing director of Organic Growth for Waste Management, says the investment in Agnion presents an opportunity for Waste Management to evolve with Agnion’s novel technology as it matures and identify North American sites where Agnion’s gasification units could be deployed.

9. Toronto-based GreenField Ethanol Inc. has announced the launch of G2 BioChem, a collaborative partnership that will acquire, validate and commercialize GreenField’s cellulosic ethanol production technology. According to information released by GreenField, G2 BioChem is backed by a group of partners and collaborators that includes Andritz AG and Novozymes. GreenField Vice President of Business Development Barry Wortzman adds that the new company has a limited partnership structure, with one general partner and several limited partners. The technology developed by GreenField involves enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation. “The core of our technology is our conditioning and pretreatment,” Wortzman says. “We have designed a very flexible process technology that can process at the front end a variety of different feedstocks, and has the capability to generate what I call very clean, discrete strains of C5 and C6 sugars from the hemicelluloses and cellulose material, respectively. What that means in simple terms is you have a very good environment for your enzymes and your fermenting yeasts to operate.”