Anellotech, IFP Energies nouvelles and Axens to develop aromatics technology from non-food biomass

January 19, 2015 |

anellotech-logoPyromania! Anellotech lands key European partners to commercialize its pyrolysis-based pathway to high-value renewable BTX chemicals.

In New York, Anellotech, IFP Energies nouvelles and its subsidiary Axens have announced a strategic alliance to develop and commercialize a new technology for the low cost production of bio-based benzene, toluene and paraxylene using Anellotech’s process of Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis (CFP) of non-food biomass. The technology will address large-scale units and produce purified aromatics streams suitable for modern derivative production processes at a very competitive price with respect to their petroleum-based counterparts.

Based on Anellotech’’s innovative proprietary CFP technology, patents licensed from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Axens’’ proprietary post-treatment hydrotreating process, this new technology will open the way to a competitive production of bio-aromatics from renewable resources with lower energy consumption and lower CO2 emissions. These drop-in green versions of widely used basic petrochemicals are utilized as raw materials in the production of consumer goods such as plastic bottles, clothing, carpeting, automotive parts, as well as other everyday consumer and industrial products.

anellotech-products

The goal of this co-development alliance is to combine research and development with commercial scale-up knowledge and resources to achieve process development and commercialization of the CFP technology in the shortest possible time.

Within the alliance, Anellotech will continue its research work at the Pearl River facility on the clean technology platform for inexpensively producing bio-based aromatics from renewable non-food biomass. IFPEN will mainly focus on process scale-up and hydrodynamic studies at its Lyon site, France, and Axens will finalize development and basic plant design and prepare the technology for commercialization. It is expected that the technology will be ready for industrial implementation in 2019. Axens will market and license the technology globally and provide basic engineering design and start-up services while Anellotech, Axens  and IFPEN conduct on-going research and development for continual process improvement and to support licensing efforts.

Not the first pyrolysis rodeo for IEP Energies novelles and its subsidary Axens

Back in December 2011, Dynamotive Energy, IFP Energies nouvelles, Axens and Dr. Radlein completed heads of agreement for the development, scale-up and commercialization of Dynamtive’s proprietary pyrolysis oil upgrading process to produce second generation biofuels.  Renewable Oil Corporation is a further counterpart of the agreement. ROC rights and participation are subject to completion of certain conditions between the parties. But it never reached the commercial stage.

Biobased was also on the agenda when, in November 2013, Axens, IFP Energies nouvelles and Michelin announced the launch of a plant chemistry research partnership to develop and bring to market a process for producing bio-butadiene. They also committed to laying the groundwork for a future bio-sourced synthetic rubber industry in France. The project in question centered on the BioButterfly process, which would cover all R&D phases in the process, from scientific concepts, to the pilot phase and validation on an industrial demonstrator. BioButterfly is backed by a €52 million budget extending over eight years. The project was selected by France’s Agency for the Environment and Energy Management to receive €14.7 million in financing.

The Anellotech Backstory

We identified Anellotech as one of “14 for ’15 taking a prime-time place on the “Bioeconomy agenda” for 2015.

Why? BTX molecules are an important target for the advanced bioeconomy.

Why it’s on The Agenda? Anellotech says that large consumer markets are there for the bioeconomy in packaging, automotive and apparel via molecules like PET, PS, PC, PU and nylon — but what’s needed, says Anellotech, is a drop-in replacement from benzene, toluene and xylenes that has found economy in design, catalysts and energy or hydrogen use.

The evidence started to pile up in August of last year when Anellotech announced start-up of its pyrolysis pilot plant, and that it was making available kilogram-scale quantities of green BTX to strategic partners for downstream development. The Anellotech technology is able to work from a variety of renewable feedstocks including palm wastes, bagasse, corn stover, and, for the most recent production, wood feedstocks.

Using its proprietary catalyst, Anellotech’s single step catalytic fast pyrolysis process enables biomass to be converted in a fluidized-bed reactor into commercially viable aromatics, principally benzene, toluene and xylenes.

The company’s Pearl River pilot plant commenced successful initial operations in December 2013, an important milestone that the company committed to in March 2013.

Why BTX?

To the outsider, a green BTX probably sounds like a really cool bike for a 13-year old.

In the world of petrochemicals, it’s a platform class of chemicals — including benzene, toluene and xylene, that’s critical for packaging, nylons, polystyrenes, rubber — even octane boosters in everyday fuels. The absence of aromatics is the primary reason that HEFA fuels (made by hydrotreating renewable oils) are limited to 50 percent blends with conventional jet fuel — jet engines are designed for aromatics, and drop-in fuels are required to have them in sufficient quantities.

The BTX group — benzene, toluene and xylene — are the key molecules among the aromatics. Though why they got that name is really anyone’s guess, since they aren’t always possessed of a strong aroma. The smell they give off? Really, when you get down to it — it’s the smell of money.

Not just money in the form of profit — also, quite literally, its in the smell of the kind that folds. Aromatics are a traditional ingredient in currency printing inks, used as solvents to adjust the viscosity.

How the ball got rolling

It was back in 2010 that a team of researchers from University of Massachusetts Amherst reported in Science that they have developed a new process to produce key chemical intermediates from pyrolytic bio-oils. According to the researchers, “the new process could reduce or eliminate industry’s reliance on fossil fuels to make industrial chemicals worth an estimated $400 billion annually.”

Principal investigator George Huber reported at the time: “Here we show how to achieve three times higher yields of chemicals from pyrolysis oil than ever achieved before. We’ve essentially provided a roadmap for converting low-value pyrolysis oils into products with a higher value than transportation fuels. We are making the same molecules from biomass that are currently being produced from petroleum, with no infrastructure changes required.”

The technology was licensed to Anellotech Corp., co-founded by Huber and David Sudolsky.

Reaction from the partners

“This alliance provide the highest level of affirmation for Anellotech’s groundbreaking technology,” said David Sudolsky, President and Chief Executive Officer of Anellotech, Inc..  “It aligns three companies that share a vision for manufacture of sustainable basic chemicals as an advantaged alternative for petroleum-based products. This is an exciting day for Anellotech – for the dedicated staff at our Pearl River facility, our partners and our investors.”

“We are extremely pleased to share a common vision on the future of bio-based chemicals intermediates and transportation fuels with Anellotech and Axens and to provide our expertise on process development and scale-up to the alliance to bring Anellotech’s very innovative technology for the low cost production of bio-based aromatics to the market,” said Pascal Barthélemy, Executive Vice-President of IFPEN.

“We are extremely pleased to help finalize the development and commercialize this breakthrough technology which enables the production of sustainable basic chemicals and/or clean transportation fuels in a cost-competitive way compared to the traditional fossil routes,” said Jean-Luc Nocca, Axens’ Executive Vice-President, Technology Development & Innovation.

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