Sweetwater Energy: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

March 1, 2015 |

5-Minute-Guide-logoSweetwater Energy technology produces low-cost, concentrated sugars from multiple non-food plant materials to help meet the modern world’s increasing bioenergy and biochemical demand.

Sweetwater uses patent-pending technology to produce sugars from several types of biomass—from agricultural residues to harvested wood—and says that the process is more economical than the industry can currently provide. Not only are the sugars perfect for use in today’s biofuel, biochemical and bioplastics refineries, but leftover lignin is burned internally to power our facilities.

The technology uses a modular approach to produce sugars that are both less expensive for the end user and more environmentally friendly than today’s corn-grain based sugar extraction methods.

Model: 

Owner-operator

Ranking:

50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: #36, 2014/15

40 Hottest Smaller Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy, #13, 2014-15

The Situation:

In December 2014, the company began advertising for a “demo plant operator” for the functions of the Pilot and Demo plant — indicative that the company was progressing towards the abiluty to develop, test and evaluate multiple production scenarios to optimize production process.  The same week, the company also annoucned a search for a process engineer to “support the organization through the process development, design cycle, and specification of a commercial cellulosic sugar plant.” So there continues to be development and expansion for Sweetwater, internally, but otherwise it has been a decidedly quiet 2014 for Sweetwater after a flurry of project announcements in 2012 and 2013.

Past Milestones

In December 2013, Sweetwater Energy and Pacific Ethanol announced a project to supply customized industrial sugars for the production of cellulosic ethanol. The agreement supports the construction of a cellulosic biorefinery, contingent upon Sweetwater Energy obtaining the necessary financing and permits, at the Pacific Ethanol Stockton facility capable of producing up to 3.6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. Sweetwater also received a $2.5 million funding grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to build five facilities in New York.

In April 2013, Sweetwater Energy announced that BioGasol completed delivery of its first commercial biomass pretreatment system. The cellulosic sugar producer will use the unit, a Carbofrac 10, in its demonstration facility to produce pretreated biomass for use in downstream processes. BioGasol’s reactor design allows for the cost efficient and highly controlled conversion of lignocellulosic materials, such as agricultural waste and wood, into replacements for conventional fuel and other oil-based materials – specifically, highly fermentable sugars suitable for producing bioethanol, bioplastics and biochemicals.

Also in April 2013, we learned that Sweetwater announced a project to provide Naturally Scientific with customized industrial sugars over the course of 15 years in a transaction valued at $250 million. Sweetwater will use its patented, decentralized process to convert locally available cellulosic material, such as crop residues, energy crops, and wood waste into sugar, which Naturally Scientific will utilize to process into high-value vegetable oils in the United States.

In January 2013, Sweetwater Energy announced a 15-year commercial agreement with Colorado-based Front Range Energy, to supply renewable sugars for up to 3.6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year during the initial phase of the relationship at Front Range’s current corn-ethanol facility. The agreement has a total potential value in excess of $100 million, and requires a minimal capital outlay by Front Range while stabilizing the company’s feedstock costs.

Also in January 2013, Sweetwater annoucned a project to build, own and operate a cellulosic sugars facility dedicated to supplying cellulosic feedstock to Ace Ethanol. Pre-permitting work has already started up, and construction of a first cellulosic sugars facility is expected to be completed by mid-2014. The initial project delivers enough refined monomeric sugar for Ace to produce up to 3.6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. It’s a 16-year deal for this phase of the relationship, with a total deal value of up to $100 million – or around $1.73 per gallon of ethanol.

In November 2012, Sweetwater tapped Merrick & Company to design its first commercial-scale, cellulosic sugar-production facility. Merrick will be responsible for the design of the facility, from front end engineering through detailed design. Sweetwater plans to produce low-cost sugars from non-food plant materials and sell them to biofuels, biochemical, and bioplastics production companies. Cellulosic sugar is to the industrial biotechnology sector what crude oil is to the petrochemical industry. Sweetwater plans to deploy its systems at locations around the country to take advantage of regional biomass supplies.

In April 2012, Sweetwater entered into a strategic partnership with Danish company BioGasol to enhance sugar extraction from biomass using BioGasol’s pretreatment technology, Carbofrac to enhance Sweetwater’s cellulosic processes, who produces low-cost sugars and then sells these sugars to refineries for biofuels, biochemicals and bioplastics.

Future Milestones:

First commercial scale deployments.

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