BASF, through BASF Biorenewable Beteiligungs GmbH & Co. KG, is investing $30 million in Renmatix, the developer of the “Plantrose” process, a two-step supercritical hydrolysis method to produce sugars from biomass with less expense by utilizing water at elevated temperatures and pressures to quickly solubilize cellulose.(Earlier post.) The BASF subsidiary led a $50-million financing round, joined by new and existing investors.
Industrial sugars are important renewable resources for the chemical industry and can be used, for example, to produce biofuels or basic chemical products and intermediates by fermentative processes.The availability of industrial sugars in sufficient quantities and at favorable cost is therefore important for the competitiveness of the products. With this patented process, BASF notes, industrial sugar can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass (wood, cane trash or straw) in large quantities and at competitive cost from non-edible plant mass.
The Plantrose technology could allow us in the future to broaden our use of renewable raw materials while improving the cost effectiveness of our value chains even further. In the partnership with Renmatix, BASF is pursuing a new direction while simultaneously underlining its corporate strategy of offering even more sustainable solutions.—Dr. Josef R. Wünsch, Senior Vice President Modelling, Formulation Research and Technology Incubation at BASF
Thanks to the partnership with BASF we can now develop and commercialize our technology more efficient. We have already demonstrated the functionality of the Plantrose process in a pilot plant. In cooperation with BASF, we will be moving it to the industrial scale.—Mike Hamilton, Renmatix CEO
Hamilton said in an interview that the company plans to build a facility by 2014 that will ship sugar that can compete in cost with Brazil’s sugar-cane crop.
There are three general approaches to breaking down biomass for use in renewable fuels and chemicals in the market today: enzymatic hydrolysis, acid hydrolysis, and gasification. Renmatix’ represents a new, fourth approach. Basic stages of the Plantrose process include:
Biomass—composed primarily of hemicellulose (C5 sugars), cellulose (C6 sugars), and lignin—which has undergone size reduction as necessary is mixed with water to form a slurry and pumped into a fractionation reactor.
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 from 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.