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Virent and HCL CleanTech receive $900K grant to demonstrate lignocellulosic sugars as feedstock for drop-in biofuels and bioproducts

Virent Energy Systems Inc. and Israel-based HCL CleanTech have been awarded a $900,000-grant from BIRD Energy to fund a project that combines HCL CleanTech’s proprietary lignocellulosic conversion technologies (earlier post) that produce cost-effective non-food sugars with Virent’s BioForming technology (earlier post) that makes fungible hydrocarbons that can be used as chemicals or seamlessly blended to make premium drop-in fuels for car, truck, train, and air transportation. Virent’s fuel products can enter the market using existing pipelines to power current vehicles at high blend rates.

The project is intended to address key hurdles—price, performance, and infrastructure compatibility—limiting the market acceptance of biofuels and bioproducts made from cellulosic feedstocks.

BIRD (Binational Industrial Research and Development) Energy is a program for US-Israel joint renewable energy development funded by the US Department of Energy, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures, and the BIRD Foundation. The grant supports almost half of the $2.1 million total project cost.

HCL CleanTech’s concentrated hydrochloric acid-driven hydrolysis technology builds on a proven industrial process, improving the economics of converting lignocellulosic biomass into refined sugars, de-acidified lignin and tall oils. The process chemistry works at low temperature and atmospheric pressure, resulting in very few degradation products and significantly lower energy and water consumption.

Virent’s BioForming platform technology—based on the Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR) Process (earlier post)—is a catalytic, low-temperature (180º–260º C) method for the production of hydrogen or alkanes from oxygenated compounds. BioForming combines APR technology with conventional catalytic processing technologies such as catalytic hydrotreating and catalytic condensation processes, including ZSM-5 acid condensation, base catalyzed condensation, acid catalyzed dehydration, and alkylation.

Economically converting plentiful cellulosic biomass into renewable, fungible hydrocarbon fuels and products will enable broad market acceptance and is the most realistic alternative to displace petroleum and create a clean energy transportation sector in the coming years.

Virent has proven it can transform cellulosic, non-food sugars into environmentally superior hydrocarbon fuels with the same energy content and performance as petroleum fuels. Utilizing HCL CleanTech’s cost-effective biomass hydrolysis technology to provide inexpensive cellulosic sugar feedstocks may be a key component of a complete and sustainable biofuels solution.

—Lee Edwards, Virent CEO

Sugars processed at HCL CleanTech’s demonstration plant operating at Southern Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina will be sent to Virent’s facility in Madison, Wisconsin for conversion into biofuels and biochemicals.

As part of the BIRD project, HCL CleanTech will also provide pine sugars to a leading biopolymer producer for evaluating fermentation into hydrocolloids that historically are produced from cane or corn sugars for use in a broad range of personal care, food and beverage applications.

Virent currently produces its renewable hydrocarbon products using feedstocks as diverse as sugar cane, sugar beets, woody biomass, switchgrass, bagasse, or corn stover. The BioForming process has won awards including the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge and the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneer awards. Cargill, Shell, and Honda are among its investors.

HCL CleanTech’s biomass hydrolysis and extraction technologies generate sugar yields of up to 98% of the theoretical sugars from any lignocellulosic material. High sugar concentrations are refined and have been successfully converted into a number of biofuels and bio-products. HCL CleanTech has developed a process to de-acidify the lignin using a proprietary washing system which uses no water, recovers the hydrochloric acid at high concentrations, and produces unadulterated lignin as dry flakes with low chloride content. During the process the tall oils are separated and can be used for the production of bio-diesel and other products.

HCL CleanTech is venture funded by Burrill & Company, Khosla Ventures, and a group of investors led by Zohar Gilon.



A JV including Khosla Ventures...

Let's hope it works out better than Range Fuels.

I note the required temperature range is 180º–260º C. This is suitable for provision of process heat from current nuclear steam plants. Tapping steam at night would reduce off-peak generation and produce higher-value products.

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