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Sweetwater Energy Raises $10M; Begins Ramp-Up to First Commercial

Submitted by on April 21, 2015 – 5:27 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  Sweetwater Energy announced it has closed on a $10 million bridge loan. The loan closed as Sweetwater said that it is now opening its Series B investor round to begin construction of a first commercial facility.

Sweetwater make quite a splash with a series of high-profile deals in 2012-13 based around the production of cellulosic sugars for cellulosic ethanol add-on projects, with Pacific Ethanol, Ace Ethanol and Front Range Energy among those who signed on to get a hold of Sweetwater’s low-cost sugars. Then, silence descended as a combination of policy uncertainty and low fuel prices put sections of the cellulosic ethanol industry into “suspended animation” as project developers struggled to find financiers.

With that slowdown, questions began to emerge around the viability of some of the companies aimed at making cellulosic sugars for ethanol players — some of those questions will now be put to rest as Sweetwater emerges briefly from stealth to confirm that it continues to raise capital, and ready its technology for commercial scale. One key wrinkle in the Sweetwater story — the company has added a direct-to-chemicals component to its strategy, and that will be the focus of the first commercial plant.

What about fuels? “The projects and plans are still there,” said Chesonis. “If corn spikes to $5.50 or $6.00, or if if ethanol prices go up and oil trends toward 70-80 per barrel, things will come back on the table. But with the price of oil the last 6 months, and the price of corn, confusion in Washington and some technology flameouts in the industry, it’s really tough for cellulosic ethanol projects to obtain financing.”

We speculate that Sweetwater is aiming at organic acids — where the petrochemical industry, starting from hydrocarbons, has the added process step and cost associated with adding oxygen — whereas biomass contains sufficient oxygen to start with. That could mean end targets like polylactic acid, succinic acid, malic acid, acetic acid and so on.  READ MORE

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