Comet Biorefining picks up $10.9M SDTC Grant for low-cost, non-food, bio-based sugars project

March 8, 2016 |

BD-TS-Comet-030916-smIn Canada, Sustainable Development Technology Canada awarded Comet Biorefining a CA$10.9 million grant for the construction of its first-of-a-kind advanced bio-based chemicals plant. Located in Sarnia, Ontario, the plant will use proprietary conversion technology to transform corn stover, an agricultural residue, into high-purity dextrose sugar.

What does Comet make, and why is that important?

Bottom line, there’s no advanced bioeconomy without affordable raw materials and intermediates, and for most applications that means affordable sugars for all the magic bugs to ferment. Consider these the instruments from which Mozart and Bach made music.

Comet’s technology enables sugars to be produced cost-competitively with corn or sugarcane-derived dextrose, the conventional raw materials for today’s biochemical production.

Here’s some fermentation math, and not the BeerPong kind

Take for example a polyester like PLA, used to make plastic packaging and 3D printing resins, among many other applications. Theoretically, sugar molecule breaks down into two molecules of polylactic acid and two molecules of water. Now, it might seem a little weird the other way around — adding water to a PLA bottle produces table sugar, but that’s the chemistry of it even if the human body can’t hack the bioconversion.

Bottom line, though, you lose weight with that transformation. With a ton of sugar, you’d end up with a theoretical yield of 80% of that. In the real-world, maybe 60-70%. So, 10 cent sugars (or less) come in quite handy, and that’s what Comet is all about — accessing $70 per metric ton biomass to extract cellulosic sugars instead of starting with $150 per metric ton corn.

In the case of ethanol, even more so, because you lose half the weight to CO2 when converting dextrose to ethanol. So, starting with a 10 cent pound of sugar you need 20 cents for the ethanol, and that’s $1.32 for a gallon, before considering the cost of the processing plant or less-than-theoretical yields.

So, that’s math. What about the path? NatureWorks has an elegant infographic, here.

The Comet business model

The company plans to build, own and operate its own plants and will strategically license its technology to select partners on a worldwide basis to meet the growing demand for bio-based products.

Comet’s facilities may be built on a small scale that enables flexibility to locate production close to biomass supplies, reducing transportation costs.

The financing

In addition to the SDTC grant, Last February, Comet closed a funding round led by Sofinnova Partners, and we have the complete story on that here.

Progress to date

Comet Biorefining operates a demonstration scale plant in Rotondella, Italy and announced in February 2016 at ABLC Comet Biorefining announced at ABLC 2016 the location of its commercial-scale biomass-derived sugar facility in the TransAlta Energy Park in Sarnia, Ontario.  The 60 million pounds per year plant will come online in 2018 producing dextrose sugar from locally-sourced corn stover and wheat straw.

As far back as 2012, In Canada, Comet opened a cellulosic sugar toll processing plant  in Southwestern Ontario for current and potential Comet customers and licensees. More on that here.

Reaction from the stakeholders

Andrew Richard, Founder of Comet, said, “This funding will support the commercialization of our feedstock-flexible technology and produce a much-needed raw material for the growing bioeconomy. By supporting Comet Biorefining, SDTC is investing in Canada’s environmental goals and economic future.”

“Sustainable Development Technology Canada is incredibly proud to support Comet Biorefining,” said Leah Lawrence, President and CEO. “Our mission is to help Canadian cleantech entrepreneurs move their ground-breaking technologies to commercialization by bridging the funding gap between research and market entry. This dextrose sugar plant is the kind of technology that has the potential to generate jobs, growth and export opportunities, and to bring lasting economic, environmental and health benefits to Canadians and the world.”

The Comet Biorefining backstory

We have even more background in our story Comet to build 30K ton biomass sugar plant in Ontario, here.

The SDTC backstory

SDTC is a foundation, funded by the Government of Canada, that supports the development of technologies which address the challenges of clean air, soil, water and climate change. SDTC invests in Canadian companies that through their innovative technologies bring positive contributions to Canada: creating quality jobs, driving economic growth, and preserving the environment.


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