ZeaChem creates cellulosic building block

By Luke Geiver
Posted February 17, 2010, at 4:40 p.m. CST

ZeaChem Inc. has developed a commercial grade bio-based acetic acid at the purity concentration level. Using a broth created from a front end fermentation process, ZeaChem's acid was created by a solvent extraction process. The end result for the company is a salable, highly pure, glacial acetic acid to be used for cellulosic ethanol production and other bio-based chemicals.

"ZeaChem's biggest fermentation hurdles are now behind us and we have significantly de-risked future integrated operations," said Jim Imbler, president and chief executive officer of ZeaChem. The results of the solvent extraction process have been replicated at two different commercial facilities. "As we observed, these results prove the successful concentration to glacial acetic acid using commercially available equipment," said Tom Schafer, vice president of Koch Modular Process Systems Inc., a New Jersey based engineering firm specializing in modular mass transfer systems.

According to ZeaChem, global demand for acetic acid is 14.3 billion pounds per year. To produce cellulosic ethanol, the company said acetic acid is only a precursor to final production. "The next step is esterification to produce ethyl acetate, which is the final step before ethanol." ZeaChem intends to continue the development of the acid at a proposed 250,000 gallon-per-year facility in Boardman, Oregon which they hope will come online in 2010.

The core technology at the Boardman plant will first produce the ethyl acetate and then, with the help of a $25 million U.S. DOE grant ZeaChem received in December, the facility will move into cellulosic ethanol production.