Clariant: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

March 3, 2015 |

5-Minute-Guide-logoClariant is an internationally active specialty chemical company, based in Muttenz near Basel. The group owns over 100 companies worldwide.

Clariant’s sunliquid technology for the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into sugars, followed by fermentation to cellulosic ethanol, is flexible to be used to convert different feedstocks on a regional basis, for example corn stover in North America, bagasse in South America or wheat straw in Europe and can be adapted to various plant concepts. The production cost can compete with those of first-generation bioethanol and the greenhouse gas savings of the sunliquid ethanol are up to 95% compared to fossil fuels. Since the sunliquid utilizes agricultural residues, it is not affected by fuel-versus-food-debate. In addition, sunliquid paves the way to a second generation sugar platform for the production of biobased chemicals.

Since July 2012 Clariant has successfully been operating a demonstration plant in Straubing, Germany, with an annual capacity up to 1,000 tons, converting approximately 4,500 tons of lignocellulosic feedstock per year.


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The Situation

About 30 miles southwest, as the crow flies, from the Czech border with the German state of Bavaria, lies the front lines of Bavaria’s investments and achievements in high biotechnology — the city of Straubing. In recent years — the region around Straubing turned to biotech to access the high returns in high tech for its agriculture-replete economy — and Clariant decided to build its demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol plant here, originally under its Sud-Chemie identity.

Opened in 2012, the demo plant is rated at 100,000 gallons per year, or around 1 ton of ethanol per day from 4.5 tons of biomass per day. The plant started out testing wheat straw and has since branched into stover and sugarcane bagasse. The facility is producing ethanol and is being operated 24/7, but is not selling into the market – keeping production quantities for samples for customers and partners. At the end of the day, it’s a facility designed to validate the process and provide data towards commercial-scale deployments.

The plant cost 28 million Euros and was supported by regional authorities as well as Clariant. It yields 300 liters of anhydrous ethanol per ton of biomass — so, for hydrous ethanol, add in some extra yield according to your water content target. A “small percentage” of the biomass (the exact percentage is kept under wraps) is sequestered as carbon for the growing of enzymes and yeasts for the later steps of hydrolysis and fermentation. In this way, not only are the microorganisms generated onsite as part of the process, it’s using the same carbon to grow as it will eventually attack in the bioprocessing — nice de-risking step there.

Past Milestones 

In September 2014,  Clariant, Haltermann and Mercedes-Benz have tested a fuel of the future in a fleet test since January. Initial results prove the high quality and excellent properties of sunliquid 20 fuel (contains 20 percent ethanol coming from straw). With its first-class combustion properties, sunliquid 20 improves engine efficiency so that its 4 percent lesser energy content, as compared to E10, is more than compensated. For drivers, this means: with sunliquid 20, the sustainability of the fuel (reduced CO2 emissions) is increased significantly whilst consumption remains the same.

In January 2014, Clariant, Haltermann, and Mercedes-Benz have joined forces to demonstrate the effectiveness of sunliquid20 with 20 % ethanol from straw as high-quality fuel for optimal driving performance.

In September 2013, Clariant received the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) for its sunliquid demonstration plant in Straubing (Germany), which was opened in July 2012. The certificate confirms that the cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues produced with the sunliquid® technology is compliant with the sustainability criteria set out in the European Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

In June 2013, the company reported that it was engaged in discussions with unnamed parties to become partners for an ethanol plant that will utilize its Sunliquid enzyme technology. In an interview with Bloomberg, Clariant’s Biofuels and Derivatives head, Mark Rarbach is quoted as stating, “We are in close and advanced discussions with partners about commercialization of the technology.” Rarbach was working on the Sunliquid technology at Sued-Chemie, and continued after the 2011 acquistion of Sued by Clariant. The technology converts agricultural waste to produce ethanol. The article describes the plant being discussed as having an annual capacity as high as 150,000 tons.

The sunliquid process has been developed by Clariant since 2006. Since 2009 the company has successfully been testing the technology in pilot scale. In July 2012, Clariant has started operating a demonstration plant for the sustainable and economic production of cellulosic ethanol via its sunliquid process. The plant has a capacity of 1000 tons of ethanol per year and processes about 4500 tons of wheat straw or other agricultural residues.

Future Milestones

The plant constituted the last step before the realization of large scale industrial plants which are aimed for in the next 1-3 years.

Business Model

The business model is to license the technology to interested parties. The sunliquid process is intended for all those clients interested in one-stop licensing of an uncomplicated, full-scale turnkey process for the economic production of cellulosic ethanol. This is not limited solely to a customized concept for a turnkey plant. Clariant also supplies all the components required for cost-effective operation of the production plant, including for instance starter cultures for producing enzymes and ethanol, as well as a special technology for energy efficient ethanol separation.

Competitive Edge

The sunliquid process for cellulosic ethanol matches the ambitious targets for economically and ecologically sustainable production and greenhouse gas reduction. It was developed using an integrated design concept. Highly optimized, feedstock and process specific biocatalysts and microorganisms ensure a highly efficient process with improved yields and feedstock-driven production costs. Integrated, on-site enzyme production further reduces production costs substantially and assures independence from external suppliers. Simultaneous C5 and C6 fermentation increases ethanol yields by 50%. A proprietary and innovative ethanol separation method cuts energy demand by up to 50% compared to standard distillation. Thus, the energy derived from the byproducts like lignin and fermentation meet the entire electricity and heat demand of the production process, leading to close to 100% GHG reductions of the resulting ethanol.

Company website

Project information

Location: Straubing, Germany

Materials or products produced: cellulosic ethanol

Capacity (Millions of US gallons per years): 335.000

Year, month in service: 2012, July

Status: open

Feedstock: agricultural residues (corn stover, wheat straw, bagasse)

Processing technology : entire process for cellulosic ethanol production, including pre-treatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, integrated enzyme production, fermentation and ethanol separation

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