BioEnergy International forms biobased chemical company; partners with U of Florida

By Erin Voegele
Posted June 24, 2009, at 1:30 p.m. CST

BioEnergy International LLC, a privately held biotech developer and manufacturer of next-generation renewable biochemicals and biofuels, recently announced the formation of Myriant Technologies LLC to incorporate all of its biobased chemicals business and intellectual property. BioEnergy will continue its pursuit of biofuels opportunities, including its commerical-scale ethanol plant in Clearfield, Penn., which is expected to begin operations in January 2010.

The newly constituted entities will operate as completely separate companies. "We saw two very distinct businesses emerging in terms of the way our customers and investors look at us," said Samuel McConnell, the companies' senior vice president of corporate development. "We found that there was a very different set of investors between alternative fuels and biobased chemicals. To add some clarity to the situation and hopefully produce more accurate valuation of the two businesses, it was determined it was better to split them out."

Myriant will encompass the same team of molecular biologists, engineers and chemists that successfully developed BioEnergy's D(-) lactic acid, which began commercial production in June 2008 for use in polylactic acid. D(-) lactic acid solves polylactic acid's thermal stability problem, unlocking the potential of polylactic acid by expanding its applications to engineering and high-performance plastics.

Myriant will also be partnering in a biorefinery project with the University of Florida. "The university was awarded $20 million by the state of Florida to develop what we feel is the first true integrated biorefinery that will take advanced cellulosic feedstocks and then produce a multiple of products, including biofuels and biochemicals," McConnell said.

According to McConnell, Myriant licenses all of the university's technology related to biobased chemical production. "We will operate the entire facility for the university as well as supply our own R&D," he continued. The facility will also employ the University of Florida's biofuels production technology, which is licensed to Verenium Corp. "We are not licensing [the biofuel technology]," McConnell said. "It is the university's technology that is further licensed to Verenium, in the same way the university's technology on biochemicals is licensed to us. Because of its other projects, we don't expect Verenium to be an active participant."

The facility is currently in the design phase. A site has been identified adjacent to Buckeye Technologies Inc.'s wood processing plant in Perry, Fla. Construction is expected to begin later this year, with operations beginning in the third quarter of 2010. Once complete, the facility is expected to have the capacity to process approximately five dry tons-per-day of cellulosic biomass materials into a maximum of 400 gallons-per-day of ethanol or 6,000 pounds-per-day of biobased chemicals.

Feedstock for the facility will be provided by Buckeye Technologies. "[The company] is a large paper company that also has access to 800,000 acres immediately adjacent to the site for use in growing a wide variety of organic feedstocks," McConnell said. Research will focus on the conversion of energy crops such as sugarcane and sweet sorghum, as well as wood waste and other waste-based biomass materials.

In addition to D(-) lactic acid, Myriant is also developing biobased succinic acid. "That is the next product to be commercialized," McConnell said. [It] is widely in demand at the right price for use as a plastic building block, and as a replacement for petroleum-based chemicals. In all cases � for the kind of products in our development pipeline � we see this facility as an ideal weapon for us in acclimating our technology for each chemical to waste-based feedstocks."