Cobalt Technologies, a developer of next-generation bio-based chemicals, and specialty chemical company Rhodia, member of the Solvay Group, will begin joint development and operation of a bio-butanol demonstration facility in Brazil. (Earlier post.) This is one more step by the two companies toward the construction of commercial-scale biorefineries using Cobalt’s technology to convert Brazilian bagasse and other local non-food feedstock into bio n-butanol in Latin America.
Under the Term Sheet, Cobalt and Rhodia will build and operate a biobutanol demonstration plant, which will validate Cobalt’s technology and its ability to seamlessly integrate with existing sugar mills in Brazil.
Work will begin in August 2012 and will move to a mill site in early 2013 for integration testing. Operational testing at the demonstration plant is expected to be completed by Mid-2013.
Over the past nine months, the two companies explored options for integrating Cobalt’s technology into existing sugar mills. This feasibility phase confirmed the scalability and attractive economics of Cobalt’s biomass processing and advanced fermentation technology, as well as its viability to work with Brazil’s local biomass, prompting the companies to move their relationship into its next phase.
Cobalt Technologies’ technology is based on a bacterial fermentation of lignocellulosic sugars into butanol. To convert the carbohydrates (cellulose and hemicellulose) in lignocellulosic biomass, Cobalt has developed a process that simultaneously extracts and converts the lignocellulosic materials into simple sugars. Cobalt’s approach integrates the extraction process with hydrolysis chemistry in a way that shortens residence time while maintaining mild conditions. This approach enables the use of smaller vessels and less expensive metallurgy, thereby minimizing capital and operating costs.
Earlier this year, Cobalt Technologies, in partnership with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), completed multiple fermentation campaigns in a 9,000 liter fermenter using one of the company’s advanced biocatalysts, exceeding the target yield and other performance metrics for a commercial-scale facility.
The advanced biocatalyst fermentation demonstration not only validates the ability of Cobalt’s Non-GMO biocatalyst to perform at commercial scale, but also confirms that the Cobalt process to produce renewable butanol is 40-60% less expensive than production of petroleum-based butanol using the traditional oxo-alcohol process, according to the company. This positions Cobalt to be able to move to commercial-scale fermentations with its key strategic partners.