ZeaChem signs contract for $12 million share of USDA grant

ZeaChem signs a contract to get its portion of a $40 million USDA grant and will spend the money on its 250,000 gallon per year Oregon cellulosic ethanol demo plant, to develop drop-in fuels and chemicals.
By Ron Kotrba | February 23, 2012

ZeaChem Inc. announced this week that it has successfully completed contract negotiations to receive its portion of a $40 million grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Regional Coordinated Agricultural Project. The USDA project will establish regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and biobased products.

ZeaChem states it is creating “the industry’s first truly integrated cellulosic biorefineries, capable of producing a broad portfolio of fuel and chemical products from renewable biomass.”

The company’s role in the USDA project, ZeaChem states, is the logical progression of the company’s phased development strategy, in which it researches and develops saleable products at each step toward commercialization. The company will receive $12 million of the total $40 million grant, and will implement the AFRI project at its existing 250,000 gallon per year integrated demonstration biorefinery located at the Port of Morrow, near Boardman, Ore.

“ZeaChem is pleased with the USDA’s support to establish a bioenergy economy in the Pacific Northwest,” said Jim Imbler, president and CEO of ZeaChem. “The grant allows ZeaChem to use our existing integrated demonstration facility to develop advanced biofuels beyond cellulosic ethanol, including biobased jet, diesel and gasoline. The project highlights one of our unique strengths, which is that we can utilize a variety of biomass feedstocks and proven processes to develop a wide range of economical and sustainable fuel and chemical products.”

Biobased jet and diesel are an extension of the company’s C2 product platform, Zeachem states, which is currently being deployed at the integrated demonstration biorefinery and already includes intermediate chemicals acetic acid and ethyl acetate, and cellulosic ethanol. The integrated demonstration biorefinery is an ideal proving ground with adequate capacity to provide test quantities of drop-in fuels for commercial and military applications. Design of the AFRI project is underway and the equipment modules are expected to be installed in 2013. Production of biobased jet and diesel is expected to begin in 2013 and production of biobased gasoline, part of the C3 product platform, will follow in 2015.

The USDA AFRI Regional CAP is led by the University of Washington and includes GreenWood Resources, Oregon State University, Washington State University, the University of California, Davis, University of Idaho, and the Agricultural Center for Excellence. ZeaChem’s role is to lead R&D and demonstration trials for production of drop-in transportation fuels, including biojet and diesel fuels and biobased gasoline.

ZeaChem has begun core facility operations at its 250,000 gallon integrated demonstration biorefinery in Boardman, Ore. The “bookends” project, as the company calls it, which “enables the production of cellulosic ethanol,” will be complete this year. The company says it is currently developing commercial-scale biorefineries for the production of advanced biofuels and biobased chemicals.