xF Technologies: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

January 12, 2015 |

5-Minute-Guide-logoCompany description:

xF Technologies Inc. is an Albuquerque, NM based company that has developed a thermochemical process to convert biomass into an advanced oxygenate that is compatible with gasoline, diesel and heating oil. xF Technologies plans to license the process technology to third parties and will not produce biofuels for the commercial market.

The process is ideally suited for co-location with a corn ethanol plant as ethanol is consumed in the conversion process. Additionally, excess heat generated in the ethanol plant is sufficient to operate the xF plant while high purity water produced in the xF plant can be utilized in the ethanol plant.

xF Technologies’ alkyl furoates are expected to be approved by the EPA as an advanced biofuel and to be eligible RFS2 RIN credits.

xF Technologies is #28 in The 40 Hottest Smaller Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy for 2014-15.

Rankings

40 Hottest Small Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy: #28, 2014-15

The Situation

One of the most promising molecules under development at the moment is the family of alkyl furoates, a tongue-twister we’ll describe from this point on as “xF”.

Why promising? They can cost under $2.00 per gallon, are an economical route to using cellulosic biomass, and can reduce particulate matter emissions (PM) from diesel by as much as 50 percent with just a 5 percent blend. And can add much needed lubricity to diesel engines that have needed it since sulfur was taken out and ULSD was introduced — and ULSD was once described by a mechanic as “sand in your engine”.

It’s the cost that’s most intriguing. Biodiesel, of course, replaces lost lubricity and elegantly reduces particulate matter emissions. But it costs $975 per metric ton, wholesale — that’s more than $3 per gallon.

“Our xF is derived from methanol or ethanol, and biomass,” CEO Len Rand tells the Digest. “We use acid hydrolysis then organic catalysis. It’s a reliable process that gets the unsubsidized cost below $2.”

Here’s a diagram of the process, as presented at NREL this fall:

The secret advantage as a production process? As you might have surmised from the reliance on an alcohol fuel and cellulosic biomass as feedstock, it is a bolt-on-technology for ethanol plants. In this case, the technology works with biomass sugars derived from corn starch or corn stover. In the case of stover, the economics are even stronger, especially on the opex side.

How can that be? Aren’t all cellulosic technologies generally costing in the $6-$10 gallon range (capex) and equal-or-higher on opex? Well, that’s perception, not reality — but generally speaking cellulosic technologies have capex north of $5 per installed gallon, even if their opex is competitive with corn ethanol (and not all technologies are).

In July 2014, xF Technologies started up their 10,000 gal/yr pilot plant in Albuquerque, NM. The thermochemical process converts biomass into an intermediate chemical that is subsequently combined with ethanol to produce an advanced diesel oxygenate. The process operates at low temperature and pressure and has a CapEx and OpEx similar to a conventional corn ethanol plant. The diesel oxygenate is an alkyl furoate called Ethyl 408 that is chemically similar to an FDA and WHO approved food additive.

The process is feedstock agnostic and compatible with cellulosic biomass, sugars and starches. All of the feedstock carbon is converted to Ethyl 408 or compost while water is produced as a co-product. There is no CO2 generation during the biomass conversion.

One of the key attributes of this process is that ethanol is consumed and therefore reduces the effect of the gasoline blendwall on ethanol production. Additionally, Ethyl 408 is designed for RIN generation under RFS2.

Past Milestones

1. Patent granted in 2014 that covers our process technology.

2. Successful test runs for Ethyl 408 at SwRI in the FTP (Federal Test Procedure) heavy-duty transient cycle for diesel engines.

3. Construction and start-up of a pilot plant in Albuquerque, NM.

Future Milestones

1. EPA Part 79 registration of Ethyl 408 and Methyl 408 as motor fuels.

2. EPA approval for an RFS2 pathway such that Ethyl 408 will be RIN eligible.

3. Construction and start-up of a demonstration plant to produce 2 – 10 million gallons per year.

Products:

Let’s go back to school for four paragraphs on “oxygenates”.

What are they: As the EIA explains: “Oxygenates are hydrocarbons that contain one or more oxygen atoms. The primary oxygenates are alcohols and ethers, including: fuel ethanol, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE), and tertiary amyl methyl ether (TAME).”

Why are they: Again, from the EIA: “Oxygenates are added to motor vehicle fuels to make them burn more cleanly, thereby reducing toxic tailpipe pollution, particularly carbon monoxide. Oxygenates are favored not only for their vehicle emission benefits but also their blending properties in motor gasoline (e.g., octane).”

Why did they become controversial: as Berkeley’s Hannah Breetz outlined in her recent review of the history of the Renewable Fuel Standard:

“Environmental concerns about MTBE also gave a huge push to ethanol. MTBE had been widely used to boost gasoline octane and meet federal oxygenate requirements for reformulated gasoline. In the late 1990s, it was discovered that MTBE, leaking from underground storage tanks, had contaminated groundwater in California and elsewhere.

“California announced in 1999 that it would phase out MTBE by 2003, and ultimately sixteen other states follows suit. In 2000, the EPA recommended a national MTBE phase out (which became part of the bargaining in the original 2005 RFS). As MTBE was phased out, demand grew for ethanol as a substitute fuel additive.”

Business Model:

xF Technologies is a technology development company that licenses its intellectual property to companies for producing the 408 family of advanced biofuels for the diesel and gasoline markets.

The company supports its licensees through follow-up R&D, process development, market identification & development and regulatory approvals.

Competitive Edge:

Although compatible with gasoline, xF Technologies has chosen to focus on the diesel market for its 408 family of alkyl furoates due to the higher market value. Additionally, ethanol is consumed in the conversion process and therefore reduces the effect of the gasoline blendwall on ethanol production.

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