Chemical giant BASF invests $30M in Pa.-based Renmatix

By Bryan Sims | January 05, 2012

German chemical giant BASF has invested $30 million, through its funding subsidiary BASF Biorenewable Beteiligungs GmbH & Co. KG, in King of Prussia, Pa.-based sugar extraction technology developer Renmatix Inc. as part of a $50 million finance round. BASF led the latest round along with new and existing investors, including venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.

Rematix employs a patented two-step supercritical fluid hydrolysis technology platform—trademarked the Plantrose process—that can efficiently extract and solubilize C5 and C6 sugars from a variety of nonfood-based lignocellulosic biomass such as wood or agricultural residues when subject to water at high temperature and pressure, all the while separating out the lignin. The sugars, then, can be used for a range of biorefining applications such as for conversion into advanced biofuels, chemical intermediates and other bioproducts.

Renmatix CEO Mike Hamilton told Biorefining Magazine BASF’s latest participation in the investment round further validates his company’s novel technology platform, its unique business model and approach in the biorefining sector in trying to become “an enabler” for the biorefining industry, he said.

“[BASF] did pretty extensive due diligence on our company in the context of the industry,” said Hamilton, a former Rohm & Haas executive. “A company of BASF’s stature is very measured in its decision-making. This is something they saw as very helpful to their business for the long-term, and we’re very encouraged by that.”

Unlike enzymatic or acid hydrolysis conversion routes that typically require expensive enzymes or harsh chemicals to degrade biomass into cellulosic sugars, Hamilton said his company’s Plantrose process works more efficiently and expeditiously because it essentially “tricks” the water to act as a solvent.

Hamilton believes the chemical giant sees Renmatix as an attractive outlet because, as Hamilton says, “It’s chemistry. We’re applying chemistry in the biomass in this supercritical hydrolysis pathway to deliver a cost-effective sugar. The economics are disruptive and they allow BASF to move in their sustainability direction in terms of increasingly more renewable materials.”

As a result of BASF’s investment stake, the company will appoint a member to a seat on Renmatix’s board of directors to offer strategic guidance during its expansion efforts.

“BASF will be a part of the direction of the company and I would expect in time that they would bring more value beyond just the investment,” Hamilton said.

Currently, Renmatix owns and operates a demonstration-scale production facility located in Kennesaw, Ga., that’s capable of converting 3 dry tons per day of biomass into fermentable-ready cellulosic sugars for trial testing to potential customers. Renmatix also operates pilot-scale facility located in Kennesaw.

According to Hamilton, Renmatix continues to improve the economics of the Plantrose process along the path toward building its first commercial-scale facility, which is expected to have an annual production rate of approximately 100,000 metric tons. A location for the commercial facility is expected to be announced later this year.