ZeaChem Inc., a developer of biorefineries for the conversion of renewable biomass into sustainable fuels and chemicals (earlier post), has successfully completed contract negotiations to receive a portion of a $40-million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Regional Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) for the development of drop-in renewable fuels (jet, diesel and gasoline). The USDA project will establish regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and bio-based products.
ZeaChem says its role in the USDA project is the logical progression of its phased development strategy, in which it researches and develops saleable products at each step toward commercialization. Drop-in bio-based jet and diesel are an extension of the company’s C2 product platform, which is currently being deployed at the integrated demonstration biorefinery and already includes intermediate chemicals acetic acid and ethyl acetate, and cellulosic ethanol.
Design of the AFRI project is underway and the equipment modules are expected to be installed in 2013. Production of bio-based jet and diesel is expected to begin in 2013 and production of bio-based gasoline, part of the C3 product platform, will follow in 2015.
Zeachem uses an acetogen to ferment biomass-derived sugars to acetic acid. Acetogens have several advantages to yeast: they convert all xylose (C5) and glucose (C6) sugars and tolerate all breakdown products of biomass; they operate in harsh environments; and they produce no CO2 as a by-product. For the ethanol process, the acetic acid is then converted to an ester which is then hydrogenated to make ethanol. To get the hydrogen necessary to convert the ester to ethanol, ZeaChem takes the lignin residue from the fractionation process and gasifies it to create a hydrogen-rich syngas stream. The hydrogen is separated from the syngas and used for ester hydrogenation and the remainder of the syngas is burned to create steam and power for the process.
In 2011, ZeaChem signed a binding multi-year joint development agreement with Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of ZeaChem’s product platform beyond C2 for drop-in bio-based chemicals and other products.
The company will receive $12 million of the total $40 million AFRI grant, and will implement the AFRI project at its existing 250,000 gallon-per-year (GPY) integrated demonstration biorefinery, located at the Port of Morrow, near Boardman, Ore. The integrated demonstration biorefinery is an ideal proving ground with adequate capacity to provide test quantities of drop-in fuels for commercial and military applications, Zeachem says.
The grant allows ZeaChem to use our existing integrated demonstration facility to develop advanced biofuels beyond cellulosic ethanol, including bio-based jet, diesel and gasoline. The project highlights one of our unique strengths, which is that we can utilize a variety of biomass feedstocks and proven processes to develop a wide range of economical and sustainable fuel and chemical products.—Jim Imbler, president and CEO of ZeaChem
In January, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a conditional loan guarantee commitment in the amount of $232.5 million to ZeaChem Boardman Biorefinery, LLC (ZBB) through the Biorefinery Assistance Program, for the Boardman biorefinery. (Earlier post.)
The USDA AFRI Regional CAP is led by the University of Washington and includes GreenWood Resources, Oregon State University, Washington State University, the University of California, Davis, University of Idaho, and the Agricultural Center for Excellence. ZeaChem has begun core facility operations at its 250,000 GPY integrated demonstration biorefinery in Boardman, Ore. The “bookends” project enabling the production of cellulosic ethanol will be complete in 2012.