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The Digest’s Bioeconomy Achievement Awards for 2013-14

Submitted by on January 3, 2014 – 12:20 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  Beta Renewables, Abengoa, Enerkem, Proterro among the winners for Project of the Year — as residues and waste are keys to the big wins.  For Fuel of the Year, Renewable Chemical of the Year, Product of the Year, Yield Improvement, Process Improvement and more – who are the big winners?  Each year, the Digest recognizes projects, feedstocks, processing technology breakthroughs, novel or improved molecules, and bioeconomy pioneers in the Biofuels Digest Awards — selected by the Digest’s editorial board.

Project of the Year (Commercial scale – Fermentation) — Beta Renewables  The official opening was just in October, but the commissioning process has been going on almost throughout the year. And anyone’s who been to Crescentino — well, it’s not an easy experience to forget. Especially for those who have been looking at cellulosic ethanol pilots and demonstrations for the past few years.

Project of the Year (Commercial scale – Thermochemical) — Enerkem Alberta   There’s going to be some extended discussion about whether a 10 million gallon plant is a demonstration of the technology, or a small commercial plant. Probably, a bit of both. But in every sense its a commercial facility, with a commercial feedstock supply agreement with the City of Edmonton as a signature part of the package.

Project of the Year (demonstration scale) — Abengoa waste-to-energy plant, Salamanca, Spain   In July, Abengoa inaugurated its demonstration waste-to-biofuels plant, with a capacity to treat 25,000 tons of municipal solid waste from which it will obtain up to 1.5 million liters (400,000 gallons per year) of ethanol.

The demonstration plant, located in Babilafuente (Salamanca, Spain) uses waste-to-biofuels technology developed by Abengoa to produce second-generation biofuels from MSW using a fermentation and enzymatic hydrolysis treatment.

Project of the Year (Pilot) — Proterro   As we reported in September, industrial sugars developer Proterro has scaled up its novel photobioreactor design and is in the process of commissioning a pilot plant in Florida.  Among all pilots, it’s particularly of note because of the uniqueness of the process. Using synthetic biology, sunlight, CO2 and water to create industrial sugars.

Fuel of the Year — Isobutanol (Gevo, Butamax)   When in early December Underwriters Laboratories announced a joint research program had determined that gasoline fuel storage and dispensing equipment meeting latest UL standards can safely and successfully use blends of up to 16% biobutanol — well, we knew we had a winner for fuel molecule of the year.

As Gevo puts it: “We will sell the isobutanol we produce, using it for market development in the specialty chemicals market, in specialty oxygenated fuel blendstocks markets, and as a building block to make fuel products such as jet fuel and chemical products such as paraxylene for polyester used in the production of bottles and fibers.”

One trouble spot? Octane – biobutanol is low-octane. But of course, you can top off with ethanol if needed as an octane booster.

Biobased Product of the Year — Solazyme Algenist   Back by popular demand — and as seen all over QVC this holiday season. As we noted when Solazyme first captured this award last year, “efreshingly touted less as a project about renewable resources and more about rejuvenating the skin, and promoting beauty. It’s got most of what it needs to be a monster – just lacks a celebrity endorsement or two.

Renewable Chemical of the Year — BDO (Genomatica, Lanxess, BASF, Toray)   In November, we knew we had a winner in BDO when BASF announced that it had produced its first commercial volumes of 1,4-butanediol (BDO) from renewable raw material, and is offering this product to customers for testing and commercial use. The production process relies on a patented fermentation technology from Genomatica, based in California.

Process Improvement Award — Iogen … “Raizen has started construction on a 10 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol plant using Iogen Energy technology. The $100 million project, located adjacent to Raízen’s Costa Pinto sugar cane mill in Piracicaba, São Paulo, is expected to start up in Q4 2014.

Since 2004, Iogen has produced more than 2 million litres of cellulosic ethanol in its $100 million demonstration plant using agricultural residues such as wheat straw, corn stover and bagasse as feedstocks.

The project is the first in the world, at commercial scale, that integrates the technologies for conversion of bagasse and cane straw into the process of conventional sugarcane ethanol.

Industrial Sugars  & Pretreatment Award— Renmatix …The news follows closely on an announce last week by Renmatix and Virent of a strategic collaboration to convert affordable cellulosic sugars to renewable chemicals and bio-based packaging materials. Specifically, under the terms of the multi-phase development project, Renmatix’s Plantrose platform will be evaluated and potentially optimized to provide an affordable sugar stream for Virent’s Bioforming process for the large-scale production of bio-based paraxylene. This is a project which led the Coca-Cola Company to invested in Virent.

Yield Improvement — Algenol  There’s nothing like cracking the 10,000 gallon per acre barrier en route to nabbing The Digest’s yield improvement award, as Algenol announced in September at the Algae Biomass Summit. Now, that’s peak production of 10,400 gallons per acre — continuous production is in the 8000 gallon per acre range.

Industrial Symbiosis — POET-DSM … That’s what POET-DSM has done in Emmetsburg, Iowa. It’s a traditional corn ethanol plant with a cellulosic bolt-on, that boosts overall capacity by 20 percent. Known as Project LIBERTY, it will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel per year – later ramping up to 25 million gallons – from corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk. Commissioning for select parts of the process is scheduled to begin in January.

Best New Feedstock (trial) — Yulex, Guayule  … The trouble with guayule has nothing to do with the usefulness of the rubber. It’s just that the yields were too low from native plants as they had evolved in Mexico.

That’s where Yulex came in — recently, teaming up with SGB.

“When they looked at guayule,” said Yulex CEO Jeff Martin, “they only looked to large commodity markets, like tires. They didn’t see the economics, and didn’t put the effort into it. When Yulex started out, it was not just acreage for tire markets — but novel applications like medical devices, consumer products. No one envisioned those markets and therefore made the investments. We’ve built up markets and demand — now, the last stage is the crop improvement.”

Feedstock Production System of the Year — Heliae Volaris   Last spring, Heliae announced the launch of its new microalgae production platform, Volaris. Volaris is the result of five years of targeted innovation, investment and commitment to delivering a commercially validated technology platform for producing high purity microalgae at competitive prices.

New Partnership of the Year (fuels) — Sapphire Energy, Phillips 66   Last month, Sapphire Energy and Phillips 66 announced a strategic joint development agreement to work together to collect and analyze data from co-processing of algae and conventional crude oil into fuels, and to complete fuel certifications to ready Sapphire Energy’s renewable crude oil for wide-scale oil refining. … The company expects to be at commercial demonstration scale in 2015, commercial scale in 2018, and is eventually projected to produce 1 billion gallons per year by 2025.

New Partnership of the Year (biobased chemicals & materials) — LanzaTech, Evonik   For the second year in a row, LanzaTech nabs a partnership award. This time, for a three year research cooperation agreement with Evonik which will see Evonik combining its existing biotechnology platforms with LanzaTech’s synthetic biology and gas fermentation expertise for the development of a route to bioprocessedn precursors for specialty plastics from waste derived synthesis gas.

Microbe of the year (demonstration scale) — deinococcus bacteria (Deinove)  … In the case of Deinove, they’ve built a library of 6,000 strains of Deinococcus bacteria, which works on both C5 and C6 sugars, is stable, can be readily modified as with e.coli. And they are toughies — for one, they are thermophiles and can tolerate very high temperatures and still produce, reducing the need to cool the water between processing steps. Plus, they can handle concentrations of up to 20% ethanol and keep metabolizing.

Microbe of the year (lab-scale) — pyrococcus furiosus (University of Georgia)  A few months back, a team from University of Georgia and North Carolina State, led by Michael Adams has revealed that they have engineered Pyrococcus furiosus to make 3-hydroxypropionic acid using hydrogen gas, and CO2.

Using no sunlight, no biomass, no sugars. Since 3-hydroxypropionic acid rarely comes up at cocktail parties — we’ll describe it as one of the DOE’s top 12 value added building-block chemicals from it’s 2004 survey, the same report that stimulated, for example, the rush to make succinic, levulinic and glucaric acids as well as glycerol. More importantly, if you can make that today — you can make fuels down the line.

Deal of the Year (equity) — BioAmber IPO   …What went right? In general terms, BioAmber came later to the market than some of its peers — although still a development-stage company that lost $39 million in 2012 and $30M in 2011, the company has been ramping up revenue and recorded $2.2 million in product sales for 2012, with a 24% margin. In all there were 227 tons of biosuccinic acid sold to 19 different customers — and BioAmber is the first to achieve biosuccinic sales on this scale.

Deal of the Year (debt) — Sapphire Energy, USDA  …We went an unusual direction this year. Instead of honoring a new debt deal, w’re honoring a payback. In this case, Sapphire Energy’s repayment, in full, of their USDA loan guarantee, well in advance of schedule. The kind of loan performance we just don;t hear enough about in the Solyndra age.

Lifetime Achievement Award – William Holmberg, Chairman, Biomass Coordinating Council, American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE)   With Col. Holmberg’s permission, we hope to ultimately name this Award the Holmberg Award for Lifetime Achievement in Bioenergy.  But under any flag, this first lifetime achievement award, albeit more generically named, goes to Bill Holmberg for his 50 years plus of leadership in the US military and in the field of renewable energy.

One of the longtime directors of the American Council on Renewable Energy, Holmberg is also, we believe, the most highly-decorated US Marine officer alive. He’s been a steadfast champion in nearly every fight that the renewable fuels movement has faced, now and in decades past.   READ MORE

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