Cobalt pre-treatment test clears way for commercial scale

March 7, 2012 |

In California, Cobalt Technologies announced that it has successfully demonstrated its dilute acid hydrolysis pretreatment process, the first step of Cobalt’s  process for converting sugars into n-butanol for use as a renewable chemical or fuel. Cobalt’s dilute acid hydrolysis pretreatment process, which extracts sugars from ligno-cellulosic biomass, was validated on woody biomass, bagasse and agricultural residues.

The test

Cobalt conducted the testing in the ANDRITZ pulp and paper mill demonstration facility in Springfield, Ohio, which is specifically designed to validate new processes before commercial-scale implementation.

Using ANDRITZ’s proven pulp processing equipment, Cobalt tested its pre-treatment process on both a batch and continuous basis, proving both its flexibility and efficiency for potential customers. These runs, while processing up to 20 bone-dry tons of biomass per day, successfully extracted sugars from the biomass without the use of enzymes to produce the desired liquid hydrolysate – a liquid-based sugar that is then converted into n-butanol.

Next stop, Brazil

Completion of the pre-treatment test marks the first phase of Cobalt’s partnership with specialty chemical company, Rhodia in Brazil to develop bio n-butanol refineries throughout Latin America utilizing bagasse as a feedstock.  With the completion of the pretreatment demonstration trials, Cobalt will now move on to demonstrate its advanced non-GMO strain performance at commercial scale.

The bottom line

Cobalt’s progress highlights that not all companies will be looking to third-party providers for a stream of low-cost sugars – some like Cobalt (and Mascoma, which acquired SunOpta’s pretreatment business) will supply their own renewable sugars through vertical integration.

The news should now focus even more attention on bagasse as a feedstock. Why is that key? Because bagasse is an already-paid-for residue of the sugar ethanol production process (so, while not free to process, free to acquire), and is aggregated in huge quantities in countries such as Brazil and India. In Brazil, a billion tonnes of bagasse could be available from the land that the Brazilian government has reserved for sugarcane expansion. That’s why we dubbed bagasse, “The Big Prize,” here.

One final impact – there’s already a heavy competition in biobutanol between Butamax and Gevo (which both name isobutanol). Now, a third competitor has come along – making n-butanol – but one which can utilize low-cost cellulosic feedstocks, including woody biomass in addition to bagasse.

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Category: Fuels

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