Renmatix, Gevo ink deal to develop cellulosic hydrocarbons for jet fuel, gasoline markets 

December 6, 2018 |

We have word bubbling up simultaneously from Pennsylvania and Colorado that Gevo and Renmatix inked a joint development agreement to evaluate the commercial feasibility of creating renewable jet fuel by integrating Renmatix’s Plantrose Process with Gevo’s GIFT technology and alcohol to jet process. 

The key word here is cellulosic, but not limited to “trees to fuels” though Renmatix has been most visible along those lines. 

The market and the problem

The companies jointly pointed to some very rosy projections: “the automotive biofuels market is undergoing rapid growth, expected to reach more than $195 billion by 2023, up from nearly $119 billion in 2017, according to Research and Markets. Demand for sustainable aviation fuels is also increasing; according to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), incremental demand is expected to grow by 3 billion gallons per year.” Those figures on sustainable jet are probably derived by calculating demand at 50 percent of all aviation fuel demand, and getting that demand from a source like this.

It’s true, anyone could sell 10 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel in about a day and a half of phone calls, you could, I could, your cousin Bob could. But try finding fuels that fit three categories: Affordable, available, sustainable — and you’ll see the problem right away. You can have two of the three.

Fuels are available and affordable if they are not sustainable. If they are sustainable and available, they have been hitherto affordable. And affordable, sustainable fuels have generally been unavailable.

For now, the market could use even a couple of hundred million gallons of sustainable, available, affordable jet fuel — and gasoline too, though in aviation you can’t believe how motivated the buyers are. Almost as motivated as they are unwilling to crush their balance sheets with fuel price increases to meet sustainability goals.

So what happens when the irresistible driver meets the unmoveable economics? That’s when we wave the cellulosic flag. It’s a deep pool of biomass, not elegantly aggregated to date (excepting woody biomass) for the very reasons that make it affordable – no one has worked out the large-scale applications, like fuel. Wood is a special case because the economics and logistics were generally worked out owing to traditional markets for pulp and paper, and then the newsprint market collapsed, leaving everyone in the wood supply chain needing a big, giant, shiny new application. 

The cellulosic backstory

As the partners explain:

“Cellulosic sugars are one of the most abundant feedstocks in the world, and in many geographies with dense vegetation, using woody biomass feedstocks to generate useful sugars is the most cost-effective solution. The Joint Development Agreement between Renmatix and Gevo to evaluate the commercial feasibility to convert cellulosic feedstocks into renewable, low-carbon products addresses a major global need for automotive biofuels worldwide, as well. 

“Renmatix’s Plantrose Process converts cellulosic feedstocks such as wood, agricultural residues, or other cellulosic raw materials to cellulosic-based sugars, the basic building blocks of sustainable fuels. Together, Renmatix and Gevo will explore project opportunities for renewable and low-emission fuel, isobutanol, jet fuel and isooctane in markets where there is a convergence of low-cost biomass and low-carbon fuel incentives.”

This Agreement to evaluate the commercial feasibility of developing renewable, low-carbon fuels from cellulosic material also comes at a time when global refiners and airline carriers are working toward reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions by looking to enter into affordable and large-scale agreements for the supply of renewable jet fuel and gasoline. 

The Gevo cellulosic backstory

In October 2016, we reported that Gevo completed production of the world’s first cellulosic renewable jet fuel that is specified for commercial flights.  Gevo successfully adapted its patented technologies to convert cellulosic sugars derived from wood waste into renewable isobutanol, which was then further converted into Gevo’s Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) fuel. This ATJ meets the ASTM D7566 specification allowing it to be used for commercial flights. The revisions to the ASTM D7566 specification, which occurred earlier this year, includes ATJ derived from renewable isobutanol, regardless of the carbohydrate feedstock (i.e. cellulosics, corn, sugar cane, molasses, etc.).

In July 2017, we reported that Praj Industries Ltd and Gevo unveiled a new commercial opportunity in renewable bioproducts, jointly announcing that Gevo’s proprietary isobutanol technology will now be available for licensing to processors of sugar cane juice and molasses. This follows on the back of Praj’s development work, adapting Gevo’s technology to sugar cane and molasses feedstocks. A Joint Development Agreement and a Development License Agreement were entered into between Praj and Gevo in November 2015. The goal of these agreements was for Praj to adapt Gevo’s isobutanol technology to using non-corn based sugars and lignocellulose feedstocks. The process technology development was performed at Matrix, Praj’s R&D center located in Pune, India.

And in October 20176 we reported that Gevo in Colorado and New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Lab will collaborate to improve the energy density of Gevo hydrocarbon products to meet product specifications for tactical fuels for specialized military applications such as RJ-4, RJ-6 and JP-10, which are currently purchased by the US Department of Defense (DoD).

High energy-density fuels are currently used in air and sea-launched cruise missiles used by the US military forces. If this project is successful in scaling the fuels cost-effectively, there may be an even broader application in the general aviation sector, enabling higher energy density jet fuel that would provide superior mileage to traditional aviation fuels.

The Renmatix technology

You can see the technology’s promise and progress in two Multi-Slide Guides:

Cellulosics & the Whole Bio-Barrel: The Digest’s Multi-Slide Guide to Renmatix

Affordable Cellulosics: The Digest’s Multi-Slide ABLC Guide to Renmatix

As Renmatix explains:

“Renmatix’s supercritical hydrolysis technology deconstructs non-food biomass an order of magnitude faster than other processes and enhances its cost advantage by using no significant consumables. The Plantrose process converts plant materials into fractions of cellulose sugar, crystalline cellulose and OMNO polymers. As part of biorefinery efforts, Renmatix is a technology licensor for the conversion of biomass into cellulosic sugar, a feedstock for petroleum alternatives used in the global biochemical and biofuels markets. The company’s Plantrose process challenges conventional sugar economics by cheaply converting cellulosic biomass – from wood waste to agricultural residue – into, cost-effective sugars. 

The Renmatix backstory

In October 2016 we reported that Bill Gates led an investment round into the pioneering cellulosic sugars producer Renmatix as energy giant Total joined in with second investment and a 1 million ton per year license. Gates is the chairman of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition— along with Zuckerberg, Branson, Bezos, Steyer, Khosla, Doerr, and 20 others who said at the COP 21 meetings last year in Paris that:

“In the current business environment, the risk-reward balance for early-stage investing in potentially transformative energy systems is unlikely to meet the market tests of traditional angel or VC investors. This collective failure can be addressed, in part, by a dramatically scaled-up public research pipeline, linked to a different kind of private investor with a long term commitment to new technologies who is willing to put truly patient flexible risk capital to work. These investors will certainly be motivated partly by the possibility of making big returns over the long-term, but also by the criticality of an energy transition.”

Reaction from the stakeholders

Gevo CEO Pat Gruber: “At Gevo, we are replacing fossil-based jet fuel and gasoline with better-performing, renewable low-carbon jet fuel and isooctane to lower greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to our approach that produces protein for food chain use while generating fermentable sugars used in the production of low-carbon fuels, we believe Renmatix’s Plantrose Process could enable us to achieve a cost-effective and sustainable means of producing low-carbon jet fuel and gasoline from fermentable sugars using cellulosic feedstocks. We look forward to working with Renmatix to create a fully integrated system that is capable of converting cellulosic materials to low-carbon renewable fuels at scale,” said  

Renmatix CEO Mike Hamilton: “Renmatix has been committed to cellulosic feedstocks as the means to enabling the bio-based economy, from recent efforts to liberate valuable fractions into food and cosmetic ingredients, to our cellulosic sugar technology for jet fuel developments. Given Gevo’s first cellulosic-based jet fuel and recent advancements, to today, with demand for renewable jet fuel increasing, we believe it’s an ideal time to explore our combined ability,” said “Despite continued innovation in biofuels, it is impossible to make enough renewable fuels at the scale that the world will ultimately need without unlocking the massive resource of cellulosic sugars. Our Plantrose technology produces high-quality, cost-effective sugars from a broad range of feedstocks, which is why we’re working with Gevo to solve this critical hurdle.”

More on the story

The Gevo website is here and the Renmatix website is here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Top Stories

Thank you for visting the Digest.