Business Briefs

People, Partnerships & Deals
By Biorefining Magazine Staff | August 22, 2011

1. Oil extraction technology company OriginOil Inc. developed a real-time control network that supervises continuous algae harvesting operations at large-scale algae production sites. The company recently filed for patent protection on the new control technology, which aims to simplify the complex task of computerizing an intelligent control system for commercial environments where all algae production and extraction processing systems are integrated. Codenamed Green Stick, the network will be installed at Australian algae producer MBD Energy’s power plant test site where it will interface with MBD’s own growth control system to integrate operations with OriginOil’s proprietary Single Step Extraction unit and downstream concentration and separation processes. Measuring and controlling the hundreds of interactions that are critical to automate and scale large production operations, including algae growth, dewatering, flocculation, cell lysing and oil recovery, have so far been accomplished in the industry with little automated process sophistication. The real-time control network system is managed by a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System that connects the biology and engineering with high throughput process control.

2. Netherlands-based lactic acid producer Purac, a subsidiary of global bakery ingredients supplier CSM, and BASF SE, the world’s leading chemical company, are leaning toward taking their two-year development agreement further with the possible formation of a joint venture to produce biobased succinic acid. Both companies say the complementary strengths in fermentation and downstream processing led to the development of a sustainable and highly efficient manufacturing process based on a proprietary microorganism, Basfia succinicproducens, a natural producer of succinic acid that can process a range of cellulosic and hemicellulosic sugars contained in biomass. The demand for succinic acid is anticipated to see steady growth in the coming years. Main drivers are expected to be bioplastics, chemical intermediates, solvents, polyurethanes and plasticizers. During the existing cooperation, according to BASF, critical steps of the jointly developed production process have been validated in several successful production campaigns. The resulting volumes were used to evaluate the market. The newly developed process would combine high efficiency with the use of biobased feedstocks and the fixation of carbon dioxide during production. Purac currently has six lactic acid production units operating across the globe.

3. After nearly five years of research and development, the work of Pacific Renewable Fuels and Chemicals, and Red Lion Bio-Energy, has become SynTerra Energy Inc., a new biorefining company that  combines pyrolysis and syngas technologies to produce synthetic diesel and renewable chemicals. In 2006, Red Lion Bio-Energy, a Toledo, Ohio-based company, began working with the Renewable Energy Institute International of Sacramento to test the pyrolysis process developed by Red Lion Bio-Energy. The process involves steam reformation with pyrolysis followed by a Fischer Tropsch process that converts the syngas with a catalyst designed by SynTerra into synthetic diesel. Known as the Syntrex process , it creates a syngas with a low volume of contaminants helping to lower the cost of downstream purification. The synthetic diesel contains zero sulfur and has a 50 percent higher cetane level compared to conventional diesel fuel, all with a 50 percent greenhouse gas reduction.

4. Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC announced the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted it another patent addressing foundational methods for low-cost biobutanol production. The patent addresses the fermentative production of four carbon alcohols. “Specifically, butanol, preferably isobutanol is produced by the fermentative growth of a recombinant bacterium expressing an isobutanol biosynthetic pathway,” states the patent abstract. Butamax filed for the patent in January 2008. On Aug. 9, Butamax also announced the filing of a second patent infringement case against Gevo, alleging Gevo has unlawfully used Butamax technology. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Delaware. The lawsuit addresses Gevo’s infringement of the patent granted the same day. In response, Gevo issued a statement asserting that the lawsuit is without merit, and that the new lawsuit will be consolidated into a single case with the lawsuit Butamax filed in January.

5. Emeryville, Calif.-based biotechnology firm Amyris Inc. has signed a collaboration agreement with Japan-based resin and polymer manufacturer Kuraray Co. Ltd. to develop innovative polymers made from Amyris’ biobased farnesene, Biofene, as a replacement for petroleum-based feedstocks such as butadiene and isoprene in the production of specified classes of high-performance polymers. Upon successful completion of the technical development program for the first polymer, Amyris and Kuraray will enter into a supply agreement for Kuraray’s exclusive use of Biofene in the manufacturing and commercialization of the polymer products. Information as to when Amyris would begin supplying its Biofene to Kuraray, at what capacity it would be used and at what location it would be integrated couldn’t be verified.

6. California-based bioplastic producer Cereplast Inc. is hosting an online forum allowing members of the public to engage in the development of proposed usage guidelines for its new bioplastics symbol, which was selected this spring via the company’s “Make Your Mark” competition. According to Cereplast, the goal of the symbol is to help consumers identify products and packaging made from bioplastics. The online comment period will be completed in two phases, with phase one closing mid-August, followed by Cereplast posting a new draft of the guidelines online and opening up a second comment period. The bioplastics symbol is expected be available for use by Nov. 15. One of the most important topics of feedback is defining what type of material will qualify as a bioplastic for the purpose of symbol licensing. Members of the public and representatives of industry are expected to provide feedback on the appropriate minimum biobased content level of plastic material that can be labeled with the symbol.

7. Germany-based international specialty chemicals company Süd-Chemie AG held groundbreaking July 26 for a 1,000 ton-per-year demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Straubing, located in the Lower Bavaria region. The plant, which is expected to begin production by the end of the year, will convert wheat straw collected from area farmers to ethanol using Süd-Chemie’s trademarked sunliquid process. The company said the demonstration plant will be the largest ag waste-to-ethanol plant in Germany when complete. The sunliquid process is a biotechnological process that utilizes specially developed enzymes to dissolve the cellulose and hemicelluloses into sugar monomers in high yields. The process then uses specialized yeasts developed by Süd-Chemie to simultaneously convert the C5 and C6 sugars to ethanol in a “one-pot reaction,” which increases ethanol yields by up to 50 percent. Lignin produced from the process will be used to provide power for the facility.

8. Houston-based Terrabon Inc. has been awarded a $9.6 million, 18-month contract by Logos Technologies Inc. to design a renewable and more economical jet fuel production solution for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Started in April, a customized production process for DARPA will be engineered, constructed and operated at Terrabon’s demonstration facility in Bryan, Texas, to produce 6,000 liters (1,585 gallons) of jet fuel using the company’s proprietary MixAlco biomass conversion technology. Developed at Texas A&M University, Terrabon’s MixAlco process converts low-cost, nonfood biomass into valuable chemicals such as acetic acid, ketones and alcohols that can be further processed into renewable fuels, such as biojet fuel. The new contract with Logos represents the second phase of a partnership that originated more than a year ago to validate Terrabon’s MixAlco process to produce biojet fuel. In the first phase, Terrabon, along with other third-party collaborators, produced 100 liters of biojet fuel with Logos, DARPA’s main contractor assisting in the commercialization effort to bring biojet fuel technologies to market. Terrabon intends to use the 6,000 liters produced at the Bryan facility for fit-for-purpose, performance and OEM testing to begin qualification for the alcohol-to-jet pathway under the ASTM D7566 specification.

9. Dow Chemical Co. and Japan-based Mitsui & Co. Ltd. have announced the formation of a joint venture and execution of a memorandum of understanding to provide innovative and sustainable biopolymers for use in the high-performance flexible packaging, hygiene and medical markets. Mitsui will become a 50 percent equity interest partner in Dow’s sugarcane growing operation in Santa Vitória Minas Gerais, Brazil. According to Dow, the initial scope of the joint venture includes production of sugarcane ethanol, which will be used as a feedstock to produce biopolymers. The first phase includes construction of a new sugarcane-to-ethanol production facility in Santa Vitória to begin this fall and be complete in 24 months.


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