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Strategic consortium to commercialize Virent’s BioForming Technology for low carbon fuels and bio-paraxylene

Renewable fuels and chemicals company Virent has established a strategic consortium with Tesoro, Toray, Johnson Matthey and The Coca-Cola Company focused on completing the development and scale up of Virent’s BioForming technology to produce low carbon bio-based fuels and bio-paraxylene (a key raw material for the production of 100% bio-polyester).

The consortium members will work together to finalize technical developments and commercial arrangements, with the objective of delivering a commercial facility to produce cost effective, bio-based fuels and bio-paraxylene. Earlier this month, Virent and petroleum refiner and marketer Tesoro reached an agreement for Tesoro to become Virent’s new strategic owner. (Earlier post.)

The consortium will connect the key strengths and commercial opportunity of each member, who are all leaders in their sectors with a strong desire to advance competitive sustainable solutions. Each member will bring unique capabilities and resources in support of the primary Consortium objective to develop the first commercial production facility for the BioForming process.

Individual members will contribute to that effort through technical and engineering assistance, infrastructure, supply chain support and/or product off-take commitments.

The consortium will work jointly to develop the scale up strategy, including the size and location of the first plant, which will be underpinned by fuel and chemical offtake commitments.

Johnson Matthey (JM) and Virent will form a potent technical team to conclude catalyst and process development, as well as the subsequent marketing and licensing of the resulting low carbon fuels and chemicals technology platform.

As announced earlier this month, Tesoro expects to close on the acquisition of Virent by the end of September, and believes that this Consortium will be key to developing a deployment plan for the Virent technology on a commercial scale. We are focused on fostering the development of high-quality, lower-carbon, renewable feedstocks and blendstocks that can either be co-processed in existing refineries or blended seamlessly with traditional fuels.

—CJ Warner, Executive Vice President of Operations at Tesoro

The combined capabilities and resources of the consortium members will provide significant advantages as the consortium progresses the technology and commercial deployment. Other parties may join the consortium over time to complement the current members and provide further support to the effort.

Virent’s BioForming platform is based on a novel combination of Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR) technology with modified conventional catalytic processing. The APR technology was discovered at the University of Wisconsin in 2001 by Virent’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Dr. Randy Cortright.

The process has been demonstrated with conventional sugars obtained from existing sugar sources (corn wet mills, sugarcane mills, etc.) as well as a wide variety of cellulosic biomass from nonfood sources. The process can accommodate a broad range of compounds derived from biomass, including C5/C6 sugars, polysaccharides, organic acids, furfurals and other degradation products generated from the deconstruction of biomass.

The soluble carbohydrate streams can consist of a wide range of molecules as depicted below and are processed through the aqueous phase reforming step. The aqueous phase reforming step utilizes heterogeneous catalysts at moderate temperatures and pressures to reduce the oxygen content of the carbohydrate feedstock.

The product from the APR step is a mixture of chemical intermediates including alcohols, ketones, acids, furans, paraffins and other oxygenated hydrocarbons. Once these intermediate compounds are formed they can undergo further catalytic processing to generate a cost-effective mixture of non-oxygenated hydrocarbons.

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