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Business Briefs

People, Partnerships & Deals
By Biorefining Magazine Staff | October 24, 2011

1. Mannheim, Germany-based specialty chemical company Rhein Chemie Rheinau GmbH has been presented with the 2011 Frost & Sullivan Global New Product Innovation Award in the Bioplastic Additives Market for its BioAdimide product. BioAdimide is an additive that has been specifically formulated for use with bioplastics. The product enhances the durability of polylactic acid (PLA) plastic, and makes the material more amenable to processing. Rhein Chemie first announced the availability of its BioAdimide additive line of biobased polyesters in March. According to the company, BioAdimide additives are designed to improve the hydrolysis resistance of biobased polyester in general, and PLA specifically. The additive expands the range of applications PLA can be used for. Two grades of BioAdimide are currently available: BioAdimide 100 improves the hydrolytic stability up to seven times that of an unstabilized grade, which helps to increase the service life of the polymer. BioAdimide 500 XT also provides hydrolytic stability, but also acts as a chain extender that can increase the melt viscosity of an extruded PLA by 20 to 30 percent when compared to an unstabilized grade. This allows for more consistent and easier processing.

2. A report produced by the National Research Council at the request of Congress claims the U.S. is likely to be unable to meet some specific biofuel mandates under RFS2, the federal renewable fuel standard, unless polices are changed or new innovative technologies are developed. The report further states that the program may be ineffective at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and that achieving the standards established by RFS2 would likely increase federal budget outlays and have mixed economic and environmental effects. Those in the biofuels industry have spoken out questioning various aspects of the analysis. The authors note the industry is expected to produce enough conventional biofuels and biomass-based diesel to meet targets, but claim there is uncertainty over how the cellulosic mandate will be met. The report also points out uncertainties related to greenhouse gas reductions. The report states dedicated energy crops will be needed to meet the RFS2 targets; however, their cultivation will probably require the conversion of uncultivated land or the displacement of commodity crops and pastures. The authors also point out that the RFS2 program can neither prevent market-mediated efforts nor control land use or land-cover changes in other countries. In addition, the report notes that biofuels face challenges related to price competitiveness, and that RFS2 will lead to government spending in relation to grants, loans, loan guarantees, and other payments to support biofuel production. The authors also claim that the specific environmental outcomes from increased biofuels production cannot be guaranteed.

3. Bioplastics manufacturer NatureWorks LLC has announced that Thailand’s largest chemical producer, PTT Chemical Public Co. Ltd., is investing $150 million in NatureWorks, which until now has been wholly owned by Cargill. The deal is subject to regulatory approval. Once granted, PTT Chemical will hold a 50-percent equity share in NatureWorks. The investment means that NatureWorks’ second manufacturing facility will be built in Thailand, and is projected to be operational by late 2015. The company currently operates a 150,000-ton-per-year bioplastics manufacturing facility in Blair, Neb. The Nebraska plant actually consists of two adjacent facilities; one that produces biobased lactic acid and a second that converts that biobased feedstock into NatureWorks’ Ingeo bioplastic. NatureWorks will need to determine if the company can purchase sufficient quantities of biobased lactic acid on the market, or if it will need to establish a lactic acid plant in addition to the Ingeo facility. If a lactic acid plant must be built, it will also need to be decided whether NatureWorks, Cargill or PTT Chemical would construct and operate the plant. The new facility is expected to produce approximately 150,000 tons of Ingeo bioplastic a year.

4. Toyota Motor Corp. recently held an event at its Toyota Biotechnology and Afforestation Laboratory to showcase technologies it has developed as part of its biotechnology and afforestation business. A newly developed yeast strain that increases the production yield of cellulosic ethanol was one of the technologies on display at the event. According to information released by Toyota, its researchers used gene recombination technology to develop a new strain of yeast for cellulosic ethanol production. The new yeast is highly efficient at fermenting xylose, and is also highly resistant to fermentation-inhibiting substances such as acetic acid. “As a result, the yeast has achieved one of the highest ethanol fermentation density levels in the world (approximately 47 grams per liter), and is expected to improve biofuel yield and significantly reduce production costs,” said Toyota in a statement. It also stated that research is currently underway to develop comprehensive technologies for the various processes involved in cellulosic ethanol production, including raw material pretreatment, enzymatic saccharification and yeast fermentation. Toyota says it is striving to achieve a stable supply of feedstock as well as technologies that reduce production costs.

5. Arizona-based algae technology developer Heliae Inc. has announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to produce algae-derived jet fuel for SkyNRG, an Amsterdam-based educator and marketer that focuses on the jet aviation industry. Heliae was established in 2008 when it partnered with Arizona State University to begin efforts to develop algae strains capable of producing high quantities of lipids. A pilot facility was established on ASU’s campus in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the company established its headquarters in Gilbert, Ariz., where it recently constructed a demonstration-scale facility. The demo plant will be capable of producing more than 100 tons of algae biomass per year. The company is developing algae strains, bioreactor designs and extraction technologies, and will look to develop partnerships with entities that have technology to convert algae biomass into jet fuel. The company ultimately intends to license its technology to third parties, but will be scaling up to the next level internally.

6. California-based BioSolar Inc. has announced that a significant number of Asian solar companies have received samples of its biobased backsheet and are actively evaluating the possibility of utilizing BioSolar’s product in the manufacture of their solar panels. BioSolar’s BioBacksheet is designed for use in photovoltaic (PV) solar modules.The product is manufactured using a polyamide made from renewable feedstocks. Castor beans are a primary ingredient in the product. It also contains mineral components. The finished biobased backsheet product has achieved certification under the USDA’s BioPreferred Program. In mid-2011, BioSolar announced that it had entered into a sales representative agreement with ShinHa Inc., a Korean firm representing large Asian PV panel manufacturers targeting the U.S. market. According to BioSolar, that announcement helped drive interest in BioBacksheet. The company expects to receive a provisional relative thermal index for its product from Underwriters Laboratories Inc. later this month. That rating is needed in order for PV manufacturers to replace their current petroleum-based backsheets with BioBacksheet. BioSolar currently uses a contract manufacturer to produce batches of its BioBacksheet product. 

7. The U.S. DOE finalized a $132.4 million loan guarantee to Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas LLC to support development of a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. ABBK’s parent company and project sponsor, Abengoa Bioenergy US Holding, Inc., estimates the project will fund approximately 300 construction and 65 permanent jobs. The project will be located in Hugoton, Kan., about 90 miles southwest of Dodge City. The facility is expected to convert approximately 300,000 tons of agricultural crop residues, including corn stover, into approximately 23 million gallons of ethanol per year using an innovative enzymatic hydrolysis process. The project is expected to displace more than 15.5 million gallons of gasoline, which will avoid 139,000-plus tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and it will be self-sufficient, using unconverted biomass to generate 20 megawatts of electricity to power the cellulosic ethanol plant.  ABBK expects more than 90 percent of the project’s sourced components to be produced in the U.S.

8. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has awarded $36 million to PETRO-based projects, but the awards have little to do with fossil-based oil. The projects, housed under what the ARPA-E has labeled Plants Engineered to Replace Oil, are projects aimed at “dramatically improving how the U.S. uses and produces energy,” according to the agency. In total, 10 projects under the PETRO category received funding. For the full list of project’s awarded ARPA-E funding visit www.arpa-e.energy.gov.

9. Redwood City, Calif.-based biotech outfit Codexis Inc. and Raizen Energia S.A., a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Brazilian ethanol giant Cosan, have signed a joint development agreement to develop an improved first-gen ethanol process with potential of expanding the collaboration to include the production of biobased chemicals. As part of the agreement, the two firms will deploy Codexis’ trademarked CodeEvolver directed evolution technology platform to improve Raizen’s current ethanol production process from sugarcane-derived sugar. The agreement will focus on a range of targets, including improving the performance of yeasts now used in ethanol production. Both companies anticipate pilot production to launch at Raizen’s Bonfim mill. Codexis will retain commercialization rights and Raizen will receive preferential commercial terms. Codexis said in a statement that the collaboration may potentially expand into the development of biobased chemicals but the company responded to Biorefining Magazine in email correspondence stating the firm couldn’t disclose specifically which biochemicals they might be at this point. In July, Codexis teamed with Chemtex, a global technology and engineering company wholly-owned by Italy’s Gruppo Mossi & Ghisolfi, to jointly develop and produce biobased detergent alcohols—a $6 billion global market—to be used in a variety of consumer products such as surfactants, laundry detergents, shampoos and other consumer products. The collaboration includes development of second-gen detergent alcohols derived from cellulosic biomass.

 

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