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Rentech Takes 25% Stake in Biomass Gasification Company

Rentech, the developer of a Fischer-Tropsch process for the conversion of syngas derived from biomass and fossil resources into synthetic fuels, specialty waxes and chemicals, has acquired a 25% stake in ClearFuels Technology Inc. through a strategic investment.

ClearFuels, established in 1998, has exclusive rights to a proprietary High Efficiency Hydrothermal Reformer (HEHTR) and process for biomass to syngas conversion (BTG). The ClearFuels technology can convert multiple cellulosic biomass feedstocks such as sugarcane bagasse and virgin wood waste into clean synthesis gas (syngas) suitable for integration with synthetic gas-to-liquids technologies.

ClearFuels and Rentech will integrate ClearFuels’ BTG technology platform with Rentech’s Fischer-Tropsch Process for the production of certified renewable synthetic jet and diesel fuels at commercial-scale facilities. This strategic partnership expands ClearFuels’ capabilities for development of advanced cellulosic biofuels facilities to include renewable synthetic diesel and jet fuels through multiple licensing arrangements with Rentech for its synthetic liquids technology.

ClearFuels has signed an exclusive worldwide license with Rentech for the use of Rentech’s patented and proprietary Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuels technology for the production of renewable advanced biofuels from sugarcane bagasse that meet both ASTM biodiesel and petrodiesel specifications for direct substitution of petroleum-based fuels. ClearFuels has also licensed the use of the Rentech Fischer-Tropsch Process for the production of renewable synthetic fuels from virgin wood waste at up to twelve US-based projects.

ClearFuels has begun project development of multiple commercial scale biomass-to-energy projects in the Southeastern US, Hawaii and internationally that will use the integrated ClearFuels-Rentech design and will be co-located at sugar mills and wood processing facilities. The wood waste projects alone are estimated to have an aggregate annual capacity of more than 100 million gallons of renewable synthetic fuels and 30 MW of renewable power.

To facilitate the development process, ClearFuels plans first to install a demonstration-scale biomass gasifier at Rentech’s Product Demonstration Unit (PDU) in Commerce City, Colorado to produce syngas from bagasse, virgin wood waste and other cellulosic feedstocks. The gasifier will be integrated with Rentech’s Fischer-Tropsch Process and UOP’s upgrading technology to produce high-quality renewable drop-in synthetic jet and diesel fuels at demonstration scale.

The agreement provides that Rentech will continue to operate the PDU as already planned, but using the syngas from the ClearFuels gasifier, while ClearFuels will pay all incremental costs of building and operating the biomass gasifier. This joint demonstration is anticipated to lead to the final design basis for the commercial facilities.

The PDU, which Rentech believes is the only currently operating synthetic transportation fuels facility in the US, has the capacity to produce approximately 420 gallons per day of synthetic jet and diesel fuels from natural gas. With the installation of the ClearFuels gasifier at the facility during the second half of 2010, Rentech plans to expand its feedstock processing capabilities at the PDU to include both biomass and fossil resources. ClearFuels believes the PDU provides a platform necessary to demonstrate its biomass conversion technology at scale.

A life cycle analysis conducted by Rentech indicates that the renewable synthetic diesel produced using the ClearFuels-Rentech Process at the PDU and in commercial projects will result in an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per mile driven along with a 40% reduction in sulfur oxides and a 10% reduction in particulates compared to traditional petroleum diesel. The renewable synthetic diesel and jet fuels produced can also have carbon footprints of near zero. These fuels will burn cleanly, meet all applicable fuels standards and be compatible with existing engines and pipelines.

More than $20 million has been invested to date in the development of the technology underlying the ClearFuels HEHTR technology platform. Between 1987 and 2004, Pearson Technologies, Inc. developed and tested the underlying biomass gasification technology at a 5 ton-per-day pilot scale facility in Mississippi, converting a wide range of feedstocks including bagasse, wood waste, rice straw and corn stover, into syngas during over 10,000 hours of operation.

From 2005 to 2007, ClearFuels co-funded additional testing of the gasification process for the conversion of bagasse into syngas. Third parties, including Idaho National Laboratory and Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, have independently validated the results of the biomass gasification testing at the pilot facility. ClearFuels has since further developed the HEHTR technology platform with its EPC and fabrication partners to enhance scalability and cost effectiveness.

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