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ZeaChem Produces Bio-Based Acetic Acid at Commercial Purity Concentration

ZeaChem Inc., a developer of biorefineries for the conversion of renewable biomass into fuels and chemicals, has produced bio-based acetic acid at the purity concentration level of a salable product. Acetic acid is a commercial product and is also ZeaChem’s intermediate building block for the production of cellulosic ethanol and bio-based chemicals.

Earlier this month, ZeaChem announced its 10,000 times scale-up fermentation results, which successfully demonstrated the commercial scalability of the company’s front-end fermentation process using an acetogen, a naturally occurring organism. (Earlier post.)

Using the broth produced in those fermentation runs, the company has now concentrated the acetic acid using a solvent extraction process. This process is extremely energy-efficient compared to the more common distillation process. The acetic acid concentration achieved is highly pure, known in the industry as glacial acetic acid.

The results surpassed ZeaChem’s demonstration plant targets for acetic acid recovery and purity, and the results have been replicated using two different commercial vendors. Acetic acid is salable to various manufacturing industries for the production of film, bottles and fibers among other products. Global demand for acetic acid is 14.3 billion pounds per year. Current US production capacity is nearly 6 billion pounds per year with sales of approximately $1 billion.

With these results, ZeaChem is moving forward using proven esterification technology for further product conversion. Esterification converts acetic acid into ethyl acetate, a high-value salable product and the chemical precursor of ZeaChem produced cellulosic ethanol.

ZeaChem intends to scale to a commercial biorefinery upon successful operations at its 250,000 gallon-per-year facility, which is proposed to be built in Boardman, Oregon. The core technology of the facility will begin to come online in 2010.

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