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Cobalt, Mercurius, BioProcess Algae, Frontline land $17.7M in military biofuels grants

| April 23, 2013

F-18-aviation-biofuelsPilot-scale biorefineries for drop-in military diesel, jet fuel the focus of the DOE’s latest grant round.

In Washington, the US Department of Energy announced up to $17.7 million in grants to four pilot-scale biorefinery projects aimed at military-spec hydrocarbon fuels. Cobalt Technologies, Mercurius Biofuels, BioProcess Algae and Frontline BioEnergy were selected for negotiation. Recipients are required to contribute a minimum of 50 percent matching funds for these projects.

The pilot-scale biorefinery projects selected will use a variety of nonfood biomass feedstocks, waste-based materials, and algae in innovative conversion processes to produce biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel and diesel. The projects will demonstrate technologies to cost-effectively convert biomass into advanced drop-in biofuels and assist these organizations to scale up the processes to commercial levels.

The projects selected for negotiation are:

Frontline BioEnergy LLC (up to $4.2 million; Ames, Iowa)

Building on prior commercial-scale gasification success, Frontline BioEnergy, along with its project partners SGC Energia, Stanley Consultants, and Delphi Engineering and Construction LLC, will build and integrate an innovative new pilot-scale TarFreeGas reactor and new gas conditioning processes with an existing Fischer Tropsch unit capable of producing 1 barrel per day of FT liquids from woody biomass, municipal solid waste and refuse derived fuel at the Iowa Energy Center’s Biomass Energy Conversion Facility in Nevada, Iowa. These liquids will be upgraded to produce samples of biofuels that meet military specifications.

More on the project

Most recently, we reported that Frontline BioEnergy completed its Series B financing, and a set of transactions with SGC Energia that will bring new capital investment to Frontline, an agreement for SGC Energia to license Frontline gasification and gas conditioning technologies and a multi-year contract for Frontline to provide a range of engineering services to support SGC Energia. SGC Energia is a licensor of various leading technologies used in the transformation of biomass into Fischer-Tropsch products, and is developing and licensing an integrated package of such technology solutions to transform low value feedstock into advanced fuels.

Frontline is a developer of air and oxygen-blown, pressurized, bubbling fluid bed gasifiers, proprietary hot gas filtration and other gas conditioning technologies that are well suited for biomass and waste to energy projects.

Cobalt Technologies (up to $2.5 million; Mountain View, Calif.)

Cobalt Technologies will operate a pilot-scale integrated biorefinery to convert switchgrass to biojet fuel.  Together with its partners, including the Naval Air Warfare China Lake Weapons Division, Show Me Energy Cooperative, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Cobalt intends to build a pilot-scale facility to purify and convert butanol to jet fuel. Cobalt will operate the integrated pilot-scale biorefinery to evaluate scalability of the process and assess the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions.

More on the Project

Last week, we reported that Cobalt Technologies announced a strategic relationship with two prominent, but undisclosed, Asian chemical companies for the development of butadiene from a range of biomass feedstocks. Under the terms of each strategic agreement, technology development is expected to be completed in 2014 with construction of a first commercial‐scale biorefinery in Asia, which would be expected to come onstream by 2015. In each case, the partners made an equity investment in Cobalt. Work to date has demonstrated, according to Cobalt, that the biomass-to-butadiene path can be highly competitive with petroleum‐based butadiene under current market conditions.

Mercurius Biorefining Inc. (up to $4.6 million; Ferndale, Wash.)

For its project, Mercurius will build and operate a pilot plant that uses an innovative process that converts the cellulosic biomass into nonsugar intermediates, which are further processed into drop-in biojet fuel and chemicals. Several organizations are participating in this consortium led by Mercurius Biorefining, including Purdue University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Incitor.

More on the Project

In “New Kids on the Block,” we profiled both Incitor and Mercurius Biofuels. Of Mercurius we wrote: “Why it’s Hot: It’s a low capex solution. According to the founders,  Mercurius Biofuels biorefinery technology will be economically viable at a petroleum price of approximately $50 /bbl without subsidies – and offers a dramatically lower $3 / capex per annual gal. of capacity, compared to many other biofuels hopefuls.

How and why? Since REACH technology is a liquid phase, the catalytic process is more efficient than other biorefining technologies. In a liquid phase process less volume is handled than a gas phase process, reducing capital costs because equipment sizes are reduced. In addition, catalytic processes tend to be much faster, therefore requiring much lower residence times, again lowering equipment sizes and capital costs. A liquid phase, catalytic process benefits from lower capital costs in both ways.

Of Incitor we wrote, “Why it’s Hot: Incitor’s patent-pending low-temperature chemical process breaks down various forms of agricultural, solid, woody or algal waste to produce commodity petrochemical replacements, specialty bio-based chemicals, and Alestron, a novel third generation biofuel compatible with both gasoline and diesel. The company says that its technology will make biofuel production at about $2/gallon possible and reduce the production cost of important industrial chemicals such as levulinates, formates, and proprionates by about 80%. Incitor is rapidly scaling up its process to a 15,000-30,000 gallon per year demonstration facility.

BioProcess Algae (up to $6.4 million; Shenandoah, Iowa)

The BioProcess Algae project will evaluate an innovative algal growth platform that will produce hydrocarbon fuels meeting military specifications using renewable carbon dioxide, lignocellulosic sugars and waste heat. The proposed biorefinery is co-located with the Green Plains Renewable Energy ethanol plant in Shenandoah, Iowa. It will integrate low-cost autotrophic algal production, accelerated lipid production and lipid conversion. While the primary product from the proposed biorefinery will be military fuels, the facility will also co-produce additional products, including other hydrocarbons, glycerin, and animal feed.

BioProcess Algae LLC is a joint venture among CLARCOR, BioProcessH2O LLC and Green Plains Renewable Energy. BioProcess Algae was created to commercialize advanced photo-bioreactor technologies for growing and harvesting of algal biomass.

More on the Project

BioProcess Algae was the only algae platform chosen to be a part of this project by the DOE,” said Todd Becker, President and CEO of Green Plains. “This project will link our commercial scale platform for growing and harvesting algal biomass with technology partners for conversion into advanced biofuels. While this is a project for the development of drop-in biofuels, we continue to focus our technology for growing and harvesting algae for feed, food or fuel.”

“We believe our Grower Harvester platform will be vital in the development of this project with the DOE,” added Tim Burns, President and CEO of BioProcess Algae. “For this project, we will integrate low-cost autotrophic algal production, accelerated lipid production, and lipid conversion in an effort to develop a cost-effective advanced biofuel for military needs. This development is consistent with our current plans to build the next phase of Grower Harvester reactors in Shenandoah.”

BioProcess Algae and Green Plains Renewable Energy picked up the 2012 Industrial Symbiosis Award from Biofuels Digest. At the time we wrote: “As the BioProcess Algae project advances from a small pilot system to a 5-acre demonstration including all components systems that lead from CO2 capture through algae growth, harvest, and extraction – it aims at transforming not only the opportunities for algae production, but the potential to transform GPRE’s operating income stream.

More on the DOE Grants

More on activities at the US Navy

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, on the Navy’s proposed FY 2014 budget, US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said:

“The Department continues to develop the drop-in, advanced biofuel initiative for our ships, aircraft, and shore facilities. Under the Defense Production Act, the Department of the Navy has teamed with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy to fund the Advanced Drop-in Biofuel Initiative to help the development of multiple, geographically dispersed biorefineries.

“Last fall, DoD issued a multi-stage solicitation under Title III of the Defense Production Act (DPA) that sought to construct or retrofit through public-private partnerships multiple, commercial-scale next generation bio-refineries geographically located and capable of producing cost-competitive, ready drop-in biofuels that meet or exceed military specifications. Soon, DoD will finalize negotiations with several companies that have met the criteria, including demonstrating the ability to domestically produce alternative fuels by 2016-2017 that are very cost-competitive with petroleum.


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