TMO Renewables, Chinese officials sign MOU for biomass supply

By Erin Voegele | August 29, 2012

U.K.-based TMO Renewables Ltd. took its first step towards the development of a series of second-generation biofuel plants in China. The company recently announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the authorities of Heilongjiang, China to secure large volumes of biomass on a long-term basis from Heilongjiang State Farm, China’s largest state-owned farming corporation.

According to TMO, it will be able to assess the potential of the HSF-sourced feedstock at its process demonstration unit (PDU), which is located in Surry, U.K. The PDU, which was the U.K.’s first cellulosic demonstration facility, is used to conduct feasibility studies on a range of feedstocks to determine the optimal process for each material for clients a commercially-relevant scale. The PDU became operational in June 2008.

The MOU was signed Aug. 23 at a ceremony attended by Sui Fengfu, secretary-general, director-general of HSF; Wang Congjiang, director of the Committee of Industrial and Information Technology of HSF; Zhang Guichun, director-general of HSF 93 farm; David Weaver, CEO of TMO; Jason Robinson, TMO's operations director; and Stephen Edkins, partner at Diverso Management, TMO’s principle shareholder.

According to information released by TMO, the company and Diverso are building a successful track record of working in China, and will be leveraging that experience under the MOU with HSF. In May 2011, TMO was selected as the technology partner of China-based COFCO, the country’s largest diversified products and services supplier in the agribusiness and food industries. TMO was also selected as technology partner by CNOOC New Energy Investment Co., which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. Under agreements with each company, TMO is conducting joint testing programs to manufacture ethanol from cassava residue and cassava stalk.

“The scale of this opportunity is exciting and we are delighted to be developing our presence in China further,” said Weaver. “This is the first step towards building one of the first second generation biofuel facilities in China. Our network in China is growing and we look forward to announcing an offtake agreement for the ethanol produced, another key element that needs to be in place for the delivery of an operational plant in the province.”

Information published by TMO specifies that its production process focuses on a patented thermophilic organism, referred to as TM242. The bacteria are able to produce ethanol from a wide range of cellulosic feedstocks. According to the company, the TMO process can take in municipal solid waste (MSW), fractionated fiber of dried distillers grain, agricultural wastes and energy crops.

Regarding its business plan, TMO has specified that it intends to license the TMO process to third parties for the production of cellulosic ethanol. In addition, information published by TMO notes that it is also targeting the production of other fuels and chemicals. The company said its molecular toolkit, along with breakthroughs in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, will facilitate development of a more flexible technology that will be capable of converting cellulosic feedstocks into transportation fuels, chemical intermediates and other compounds.

In early August, Lativa Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis visited TMO’s facilities. During his visit, TMO showcased its integrated process for converting MSW into ethanol. Under a collaboration with U.K.-based Greenworld Fuels Ltd., TMO has assisted with the development of a manufacturing facility and process demonstration unit in Riga, Latvia, to develop at MSW ethanol plant.

“I was eager to visit TMO and hear more about their waste to energy technology,” said Dombrovskis. “I have a personal interest in sustainability and cleantech technologies and as statesman for my country I am keen to understand how it can be used to deliver jobs and value to the Latvian people.”