People, Partnerships & Deals

By Biorefining Magazine Staff | April 25, 2011

1. Bolingbrook, Ill.-based Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc. has signed a formal collaborative agreement with Wayne, N.J.-based International Specialty Products Inc. to evaluate and introduce to the market novel renewable waxes and derivatives as biocide carriers for wood/plastic composite applications. Elevance and ISP have completed initial laboratory evaluations and have identified candidate waxes that are now moving into scale-up testing. Both companies expect to expand testing later this year with commercialization to begin by year’s end. Elevance’s renewable waxes are made from vegetable oils via its proprietary metathesis technology. According to Andy Shafer, executive vice president of sales and market development for Elevance, both companies had several discussions prior to the announced collaboration about how Elevance’s renewable waxes could be utilized as carriers for ISP’s biocides into plastic/wood applications.

2. A team of researchers at Kansas State University is studying the environmental and economic sustainability of algae biodiesel production. Results of the environmental portion of the evaluation, titled “Sustainability of algae derived biodiesel: a mass balance approach,” have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. A follow-up study will address economic stability. According to Peter Pfromm, a professor of chemical engineering at KSU, the team used a carbon mass balance to evaluate the environmental sustainability of algae biodiesel production. What Pfromm and his team ultimately determined is that algae biodiesel produced using CO2 sourced from fossil fuels, such as a coal-fired power plant, is not environmentally sustainable (regarding carbon) because the coal-derived CO2 is still eventually added to the atmosphere and is not sequestered. Algae biodiesel produced using renewable CO2, such as that produced at an ethanol plant, however, is nearly environmentally sustainable. “The only nonsustainable [aspect] of the operation is making fertilizer to make the algae, which comes from natural gas.”

3. The World Economic Forum has issued a report titled, “The Green Investing 2011: Reducing the Cost of Financing,” in conjunction with Bloomberg Clean Energy Finance, and numbers from the report show that clean energy investments are “a vital component to sustained economic growth.” In September, WEC issued a report that recognized a $295 billion potential for the biorefining industry by 2030, but the recent report focuses on investment trends happening today. Projects based on biomass, geothermal or wind can compete with fossil-based fuels in significant energy markets, the report says. One area that can help drive down the costs of producing renewable energy is continued support for R&D, which in 2010 grew to a record level, reaching 24 percent at $35 billion in the U.S., from $28.6 billion in 2009. “The fruits of this growing research pipeline will filter into the market over the coming years,” the report explained. Also in 2010, the average amount of money invested by venture capitalists into cleantech firms reached $28 million, up $11 million from 2007.

4. Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have developed a process to convert chicken feathers into biobased plastic. The team, led by UNL professor of biological systems engineering Yiqi Yang, used a chemical modification process to transform poultry feathers into a biodegradable thermoplastic. The project has been underway for several years. While the team initially tried to use the feather-based plastic as is, they recently discovered that modifying the material on a molecular basis via a chemical process could broaden the range of applications for the resulting material. The process has been evaluated at the bench scale. Yang says his team is currently seeking funding and partnerships to allow testing to reach pilot scale. Rather than seeking grants, Yang says the team would prefer to collaborate with a member of the plastics industry.

5. Utah State University is home to a new bioenergy center. The University’s Board of Trustees recently approved the USU Extension Center for Agronomic and Woody Biofuels. The center will provide the organizational structure to support current research and extensive activities related to using plants for food, feed, fiber and reclamation, known as agronomic science and technology. Research at the center will support crops and their conversion into biofuels, both within Utah and around the nation. According to Dallas Hanks, USU extension bioenergy agronomist and the center’s director, the center will serve as the umbrella for four ongoing bioenergy research projects, including the FreeWays-to-Fuel project, the Utah Biomass Resources Group, the Urban Farming and Fuel project, and a Department of Defense-funded feedstock project. Additional research projects are expected to be developed under the center in the future.

6. Interjet and Airbus conducted the first jatropha-based biofuel test flight in Mexico recently. The Airbus 320 jet successfully flew from Mexico City’s International Airport to Angel Albino Corzo of Tuxtla Gutierrez airport in the southern State of Chiapas. One of the aircraft’s two engines was fueled with a 30 percent biojet blend. Hydroprocessed jatropha-based jet fuel used in the flight was manufactured by Honeywell’s UOP. According to Honeywell, its Green Jet Fuel process technology was originally developed in 2007 under a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to produce renewable military jet fuel for the U.S. military. Entities that provided jatropha feedstock for the test flight include the Chiapas state government, Bencafser S.A., and Energy JH S.A., and Globales Energia Renovables, a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S.-based Global Clean Energy Holdings Inc.

7. The Dow Chemical Co. and OPX Biotechnologies Inc. announced recently that the two companies are collaborating to develop an industrial-scale process for the production of biobased acrylic acid from renewable feedstocks. Dow and OPXBIO recently signed a joint development agreement to prove the technical and economic viability of an industrial-scale process to produce acrylic acid using a fermentable sugar (such as corn and/or cane sugar) feedstock with equal performance qualities as petroleum-based acrylic acid, creating a direct replacement option for the market. If collaborative research is successful, the companies will discuss commercialization opportunities that could bring biobased acrylic acid to market in three to five years. Dow will provide its expertise in industrial chemistry, process optimization and product development. OPXBIO, a company that uses biotechnology to convert renewable raw materials into biochemicals and fuels, will contribute its expertise in strain development and bioprocessing utilizing its trademarked EDGE (Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering) technology. The global petroleum-based acrylic acid market is $8 billion and growing 3 to 4 percent per year. Acrylic acid is a key chemical building block used in a wide range of consumer goods including paints, adhesives, diapers and detergents.

8. Researchers in Brazil are developing a process to extract nanocellulose fibers from biomass and use those fibers to reinforce plastics. The team, led by São Paulo State University professor Alcides Leão, spoke about its research at 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society March 27. According to Leão, the fibers used to reinforce the plastics are sourced from delicate fruits like bananas and pineapples, but are extremely strong. In fact, some of these nanocellulose fibers are nearly as stiff as Kevlar. However, unlike Kevlar and other traditional plastics, nanocellulose fibers are not sourced from petroleum. To extract the nanocellulose fibers from biomass, the research team placed leaves and stems from these plants into a pressure cooker-like device. After adding a proprietary mix of chemicals, the mixture is heated over several cycles. The result is a material that resembles talcum powder. While the process is described as costly, the researchers noted that just one pound of nanocellulose can produce 100 pounds of super-strong, lightweight plastic.

9. Neste Oil is serious about expanding the range of feedstocks used to produce its renewable diesel product, NexBTL. The company has received a loan totaling roughly $70 million for research and development from the Nordic Investment Bank. Of the money invested in R&D in the past, 80 percent has gone into feedstock research. The company has recognized recent progress regarding woody biomass and algae oil research, and is also looking into jatropha oil, camelina oil, waste from fish processors and tall oil. Lars Peter Lindfors, senior vice president for Neste’s technology and strategy division, says the loan shows the company’s commitment to raw materials, and the that the additional funding will secure the continuation of cutting-edge R&D and the future development of the NexBTL renewable diesel technology. The Singapore renewable diesel facility Neste opened this year uses mainly palm oil, but the company hopes to use more of the waste created during the process. Stearin, a byproduct of the palm oil production process will account for more than 20 percent of Neste’s renewable input, palm fatty acid distillate will reach 5 to 10 percent, waste animal fats will total roughly 20 percent, and the rest will be rapeseed oil.

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