LS9 scales up fermentation platform for biobased fuels, chemicals

By Erin Voegele | November 09, 2011

California-based LS9 Inc. has successfully ramped up its technology to the 20,000-liter (5,283 gallon) scale, demonstrating continued process in the scale-up and commercialization of its biobased chemicals and fuels technology platform. Initial production at the 1,000-liter (264-gallon) scale was completed at the company’s pilot plant in San Francisco. The company has since increase the scale of production 20-fold to produce approximately 1 ton of a specific chemical for its strategic partner Proctor & Gamble. According to Ed Dineen, LS9’s president and CEO, the 20,000-liter batch was produced at a tolling site.

LS9’s fermentation technology uses sugar as a feedstock. “We have a platform technology where in a one-step process we take those sugars, and depending on the metabolic pathway we’ve engineered into our bacteria, we produce a chemical or a fuel,” said Dineen. The platform can produce a wide range of chemicals and fuels, including jet fuel, diesel, alcohol chemicals and ester chemicals. “All of those are made in a one-step fermentation by altering the metabolic pathways in the bacteria we use,” he explained.

Dineen said his company intends to continue production at the tolling site for the next few months, with the potential of moving up to the 50,000-liter (13,208-gallon) production level. The increase in production will lead into the start up of LS9’s demonstration facility in Okeechobee, Fla., which is expected to become operational during the first quarter of 2012. The 135,000-liter (35,663-gallon) fermentation vessel at the site will be the stepping stone to commercial production. According to Dineen, the site could be further expanded to reach commercial production levels in the future. “[The site] has 4 larger fermentors that we will initially not use,” he said, noting that if the right opportunity presents itself commercially and financially, those fermentors could be brought online.

While Dineen did not disclose which product was produced at the 20,000-liter scale, he did note which of LS9’s products are furthest along in the development process. “The products that are furthest along in our pipeline are chemical products,” Dineen said, including an alcohol product used in surfactants such as detergents and shampoos, and an ester chemical that is used in surfactants and lubricants. Regarding fuel molecules, Dineen mentioned a drop-in diesel.