BASF to partner with Renmatix for the production of industrial sugars from biomass; bio-based precursors for chemicals and fuels
18 December 2013
BASF and US-based supercritical hydrolysis company Renmatix Inc. signed a non-exclusive joint development agreement to scale up the Renmatix Plantrose process for the production of industrial sugars based on lignocellulosic biomass. The parties have also agreed to key financial terms for future commercial licenses, which BASF can exercise at its discretion. The collaboration follows BASF’s $30 million investment in Renmatix in January 2012. (Earlier post.)
The Plantrose technology developed by Renmatix enables industrial sugar to be produced, at competitive costs, from a variety of non-edible biomass (lignocellulose) sources. The proprietary process breaks down lignocellulosic sources (e.g. wood, agricultural-residues or straw) into industrial sugars using supercritical water (water at high temperature and pressure).
|Renmatix’ supercritical hydrolysis technology offers a third pathway to produce cellulosic sugars. Source: Renmatix. Click to enlarge.|
Industrial sugars are important building blocks for various basic chemicals and intermediates that can be produced, for example, by fermentative processes. The availability of these industrial sugars in sufficient quantities and at competitive cost is important to enable both environmentally-friendly and cost-competitive bio-based products.
Incorporating biomass feedstocks as a first step in the value chain creates a raw material change that can reduce reliance on fossil raw material sources such as naphtha as principal feedstock.
The water-based Plantrose Process consists of two core steps:
Fractionation of biomass and separation of the remaining solids which contain cellulose and lignin. The biomass first undergoes size reduction, as necessary, and is then conveyed to a storage silo. The stored solids are slurried with water and pumped and heated to reaction temperature and then fed to the fractionation reactor where the reaction takes place.
The solids from the fractionation process consist predominantly of cellulose and lignin. These solids are sent to a blend tank where they are re-slurried by mixing with water and then pumped into the system at pressure and preheated.
Cellulose hydrolysis of the pretreated solids under elevated conditions utilizing supercritical water as the primary solven. The products from this reaction are then cooled and filtered. Remaining solids, in the form of clean, odorless lignin, are collected.
Where necessary, the separate C5 and C6 soluble oligomer streams are transformed to monomers through a catalytic process.
The relative ease of hydrolysis of the hemicelluloses compared to the recalcitrant cellulose necessitates this two-step process in order to preserve the C5 sugar that would be rapidly destroyed under the more severe conditions necessary for cellulose dissolution into C6 sugar, Renmatix says.
Renmatix’s supercritical hydrolysis technology deconstructs non-food biomass an order of magnitude faster than other processes and enhances its cost advantage by using no significant consumables. Renmatix is privately held, with operations in Georgia currently capable of converting three dry tons of cellulosic biomass to Plantro sugar per day.
Projects relating to the topic of raw material change make up one important technology field in BASF’s Research Verbund. BASF experts are engaged in identifying interesting processes for utilizing alternative raw materials, such as renewables, natural gas, and CO2.
Raw material change will only be possible via process innovations that allow the utilization of alternative sources of raw materials. It requires processes like Plantrose, which will be further developed in a joint effort, that enable the use of non-edible biomass as a chemical feedstock and which do not compete with food or feed production. The Plantrose process addresses our needs for renewable raw materials. It will help us to support our customers in developing solutions that contribute to sustainable development.—Dr. Peter Schuhmacher, President of BASF’s competence center Process Research and Chemical Engineering
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