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Materia Launches Chemistry Blog on Olefin Metathesis

Elevance Renewable Sciences Planning Biorefinery Based on Olefin Metathesis Process; Range of Products Includes Renewable Jet and Diesel, and Biodiesel

Schematic of the Elevance biorefinery. Source: Elevance. Click to enlarge.

Elevance Renewable Sciences, Inc. (ERS) received a $2.5 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to fund preliminary engineering design for a demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery based on its core olefin metathesis technology for the production of high value specialty chemicals and biofuels—including advanced biohydrocarbon renewable jet and diesel fuel as well as conventional biodiesel (fatty acid methyl ester)—from renewable oils. (Earlier post.)

Elevance’s manufacturing platform integrates its proprietary technology in novel combinations with established industrial processes (metathesis, transesterification, hydrogenation). The ERS Biorefinery is projected to be a profitable asset at $45/barrel crude oil and delivers improved profitability of $300-900 per metric ton compared to traditional biodiesel plants.

Newton, Iowa is the preferred site for the project, but final site selection details have not been completed. According to an AP report, about one-fourth of first-year production would use poultry fat for feedstock.

The technology underlying ERS’ processes is based on the work of Nobel Laureate Dr. Robert H. Grubbs, who pioneered the olefin metathesis process at Cal Tech.

(The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2005, awarded for the development of olefin metathesis in organic synthesis, is shared by three scientists: Frenchman Yves Chauvin and Americans Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock.)

Olefin metathesis, a catalyst technology which swaps molecular fragments on either side of a carbon-carbon double bond, has become an efficient and widely-used chemical process in petroleum refining and other industries. It enables new chemical compounds and manufacturing processes once thought to be impossible. The technology is efficient, stable and predictable, and enables relatively simple processing using widely available industrial equipment. (Earlier post.)

ERS’ biorefinery can handle multiple different feedstock oils and prefers those with high degrees of unsaturation, particularly mono-unsaturation. This is because metathesis operates on carbon-carbon double bonds found at points of unsaturation.

As in a traditional petroleum refinery, manipulating the ERS biorefinery’s operating conditions and feedstock oil compositions will result in different relative proportions of the end products. This allows the biorefinery to vary, within some limits, the product distribution to maximize the economics of the total product suite. Furthermore, additional processing can be applied to the platform products to make them into additional downstream finished products.

The demonstration scale biorefinery will help Elevance to understand the impact of feedstocks and recycle streams, as well as produce platform chemicals and fuels for market development and performance testing. It will also enable Elevance to develop a process model, which can be applied in the design of a commercial scale unit.

Elevance continues the collaborative work of Cargill Inc. and Materia Inc., a technology organization leveraging patents from the California Institute of Technology, to commercialize the production of renewable chemicals. A round of more than $40 million of private equity funding was led by TPG Growth and TPG Biotechnology Partners to scale the technology.




There are lots of ways for make synthetic fuels. It has just been easier to pump oil out of the ground and refine it. Maybe one day we will see that wasting our natural resources is foolish. We should preserve those resources for developing renewable energy, which may be the best use for them anyway.

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