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ITOCHU invests in Flint Hills/Benefuel biodiesel project in US

Japan-based ITOCHU Corporation has invested in a 50-million-gallon/year, next-generation (inedible feed stock base) biodiesel fuel (BDF) project, which Flint Hills Resources LLC (FHR), a leading US refining, biofuel and chemicals company, and Benefuel Inc, developer of a solid-state biodiesel catalyst and process (earlier post), are jointly developing in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Benefuel and FHR have an exclusive agreement to develop and operate US-based biodiesel projects using Benefuel’s ENSEL technology. The joint venture—Duonix, LLC—is actively developing the first project, which is a retrofit of the 50-million-gallon-per-year facility in Beatrice, Nebraska. The facility was acquired by FHR out of bankruptcy and has since been transferred to Duonix. The Beatrice plant will continue to be operated by FHR.

The projected production volume of this facility alone corresponds to approximately 5% of the current biodiesel production in the US, ITOCHU noted.

Core to Benefuel’s process technology is its bi-functional solid catalyst, which combines esterification of free fatty acids (FFA) and transesterification of triglycerides into a single process step—a long-standing technology goal of the biodiesel and oleochemical industries. The FFA contained in the feedstocks is an inhibitor for conversion of oil and fat into BDF, and must be removed with expensive purification and refining processes.

Solving these challenge significantly expands feedstock options, simplifies the refining process and enables a cost structure competitive with petroleum products.

The technology enables the use of cheaper, high FFA content and inedible feedstocks, such as distillers corn oil from ethanol refining; waste vegetable oils; animal fats; and unrefined oils; without the costly purification and refining processes. Benefuel suggests that its patented process technology represents a strong competitive advantage over conventional BDF processing technologies, since feedstock costs generally account for 75%-90% of total processing costs.

ITOCHU, as a strategic partner and investor in Benefuel since 2011, had been actively testing and validating Benefuel’s technology, and has decided to participate in this project, which it believes will be a cornerstone for next-generation biofuel production in the US and in many other counties worldwide.

ITOCHU ENEX, an ITOCHU group company and the largest distributer of petroleum products in Japan, has also agreed to participate in this project as part of its vision of building a global biofuel business network with a major focus on developing its biofuels business in Asia, in collaboration with ITOCHU and its partners.

Flint Hills Resources, LLC, through its subsidiaries, markets products such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, ethanol, biodiesel, olefins, polymers and intermediate chemicals, as well as base oils and asphalt. Flint Hills Resources operates ethanol plants in Fairbank, Iowa Falls, Menlo and Shell Rock, Iowa and Fairmont, Neb. The plants have a combined annual capacity of 550 million gallons of ethanol.

FHR is a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries.


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