|Overview of the Plantrose supercritical hydrolysis process. Click to enlarge.|
Renmatix (formerly Sriya Innovations), which exited stealth mode earlier this year, unveiled its Plantrose process, a supercritical hydrolysis process to produce sugars from biomass with less expense. At Renmatix’s demonstration facility in Kennesaw, Georgia, the company has already scaled its process to convert three dry tons of woody biomass to sugars daily.
Access to non-food derived low-cost industrial sugars, the foundation of the emerging bio-industrial economy, can enable a significant shift from petroleum-based fuels and chemicals to cost-effective bio-based alternatives. There are 3 general approaches to breaking down biomass for clean technology applications in the market place today: enzymatic hydrolysis, acid hydrolysis, and gasification. Renmatix’ is a new, fourth approach.
Renmatix’ Plantrose process is the first to break down cellulose at industrial scale through supercritical hydrolysis, which utilizes water at elevated temperatures and pressures to quickly solubilize cellulose. The supercritical state of matter has long been utilized in industrial processes including coffee decaffeination and pharmaceutical applications.
Basic stages of the process include:
Biomass which has undergone size reduction as necessary is mixed with water to form a slurry and pumped into a fractionation reactor. Biomass is composed primarily of hemicellulose (C5 sugars), cellulose (C6 sugars), and lignin.
In fractionation less severe conditions first solubilize hemicellulose into a C5 sugar stream in a matter of minutes; the cellulose and lignin remain as solid particles.
A simple solid/liquid separation removes the remaining cellulose and lignin form the C5 sugar stream. The C5 stream is collected in one vessel and the solids are sent to cellulose hydrolysis.
In cellulose hydrolysis, more severe conditions solubilize the cellulose into a C6 sugar stream in a small number of seconds. The lignin remains as a solid particle. Renmatix says that the relative ease of hydrolysis of the hemicelluloses compared to the recalcitrant cellulose necessitates this two-step process in order to preserve the C5 sugars that would be rapidly destroyed under the more severe conditions necessary for cellulose dissolution.
A simple solid/liquid separation removes the remaining lignin solid form the C6 sugar stream. The C6 stream is collected in one vessel and the lignin in another.
Where necessary, the separate C5 and C6 soluble oligomer streams are easily transformed to monomers through a catalytic process, Renmatix says. The company also has developed processes to concentrate sugars as necessary to meet specifications of different partners.
The Plantrose process is biomass agnostic. While the initial production facilities will use wood products as inputs, the initial step in Renmatix’s Plantrose Process can be modified to incorporate alternate inputs such as corn cobs and stover, miscanthus, switch grass, and bagasse.
To further support the company’s growth plans, Renmatix is commencing technical and business operations in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
John Melo, CEO of renewable chemical and fuels company Amyris, recently joined the Renmatix Board of Directors.
Ask any of my colleagues in this bio-industry what they most need to succeed and they’ll tell you: we need reliable sources of cost effective cellulosic sugar. Renmatix is delivering that sugar sustainably, with very attractive economics and taking the guesswork out of the bio-industrial supply chain.—John Melo