ABLC buzzes about finance, government actions, chemicals, carbon, and technology advances

April 23, 2014 |


As ABLC completes its second day, companies, agencies, financiers step forward to detail advances toward scale, new programs.

In Washington, more than 35 companies came under the microscope as delegates at ABLC, the annual bioeconomy leadership conference which continues through Wednesday with more than 100 speakers on the agenda, moved from policy considerations to a look at the new Farm Bill, creative financing, and presentations and discussion on more than 40 companies in the advanced biofuels and chemicals space.

Delegates heard discussions, evaluations, presentations and updates on more than 35 companies including Amyris, Anellotech, BioAmber, Calysta Energy, Cardia Bioplastics, Deinove, Elevance, Endophytics, FKuR, Global Bioenergies, Kiverdi, Lauren Biocomposites, Myriant, NatureWorks, Novomer, Renmatix, Rennovia, Rivertop Renewables, Proterro, Sweetwater Energy, American Process, GreenField Specialty Alcohols, Iogen, Butamax, Green Biologics, OPX Biotechnologies, Imperium Renewables, Virent, Avantium, Maverick Synfuels, ICM, Clariant, Cool Planet, DSM, Coca-Cola, Algenol, Solazyme, and REG.

News and notes from the ABLC stage and from the world of biofuels:

Proterro’s system for producing sugars from CO2, water, sunlight “is scalable”, engineers report

“Proterro has reached its Q1 sugar-production pilot milestones,” CEO Kef Kasdin reported at ABLC.

Updating attendees on Proterro’s progress in developing an affordable, clean sugar feedstock for biofuels and biobased chemicals, Kasdin said: “While sugar production has begun at low levels, it has been controllable, meaning that we can increase sugar productivity as predicted. We also consistently saw no contamination effect on productivity.”

“In four months of continuous operation at our pilot plant in Orlando, Florida, our robust photobioreactors — key elements in our patented sugar-making process — yielded results verifying that our process is scalable,” she continued.

In February, Proterro announced that the USPTO had issued a notice of allowance for a patent protecting the novel photobioreactor, which cultivates Proterro’s patented, sugar-producing cyanobacteria, the other key part of the company’s sugar-making process.

Learnings from the pilot thus far are leading to improvements in the next-generation photobioreactor being developed with ILC Dover (ILC), the NASA spacesuit maker that specializes in advanced fabrics and engineered inflatables, Kasdin said. She added that an updated iteration of the photobioreactor is due for installation later this quarter.

Oakbio wins $500K for process to make butanol, other biofuels from Alberta industrial fluegas emissions

In California, the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation of Alberta, Canada awarded a $500,000 grant to Oakbio, a Sunnyvale, CA-based cleantech company, and The Ohio State University for their proposal submission; “Conversion of industrial CO2 emissions into biofuels and chemicals.

This project has been awarded $500,000 for Round 1 of the CCEMC’s Grand Challenge – Innovative Carbon Uses program. In this program Oakbio will develop a system for converting carbon dioxide from Alberta industrial fluegas emissions into butanol and other biofuels using the system they developed for production of bioplastics.

“The CCEMC is thrilled to support Oakbio in their leading efforts to convert industrial carbon dioxide emissions into biofuels and chemicals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process,” said CCEMC Chair Eric Newell.

“Butanol is a fuel and feedstock, and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are versatile plastics. Together these products are sufficient in volume of demand to account for the capture of a significant amount of globally produced CO2. The Oakbio process is intended to make that large scale capture and conversion of waste CO2 a profitable business.,” said Oakbio President and Chief Scientist, Brian Sefton.

A collaboration with Prof. F. Robert Tabita of The Ohio State University to further  develop this n-butanol production platform is a key part of this proposal. “Synthetic biology principals will guide the further construction of optimized strains for product formation” said Dr. Tabita.

Giant miscanthus advances in North Carolina

In North Carolina, farmers and landowners are participating in a program from Greensboro-based Repreve Renewables to grow giant miscanthus grass for renewable product solutions. This innovative program provides famers with an economic alternative for underutilized and marginal land.

“This year, said Repreve CEO Jeff Wheeler, we are excited to bring the ACCU YIELD System to locations in North Carolina and throughout the United States to plant giant miscanthus grass for commercial biomass production.”

Repreve reports that its program significantly reduces the risk of growing a new crop while providing other benefits. Environmental benefits they cite include improved soil composition, reduced use of inputs compared to other crops and enhanced soil and water conservation. Economic benefits come from leveraging underutilized and marginal land for producing a profitable crop. There are economic benefits also, the company said, for those in their communities that store, transport and process the material.

Primus starts second demonstration run

In New Jersey, Primus Green Energy has started a second continuous demonstration plant run at its Hillsborough headquarters, which is expected to run through the end of May.The primary goals are to further improve the plant’s production capacity, optimize operation variables and continue accumulating operating hours on the catalysts.

The demonstration plant, which utilizes the proprietary STG+ technology, was formally commissioned at ceremony held at the company’s headquarters in October 2013, making it one of the first advanced alternative fuel plants currently in operation that produces gasoline from natural gas. The company plans to break ground on our first commercial plant later in 2014.

In Q4 2013, Primus successfully competed a 720-hour continuous run at its 100,000 gallon-per-year demonstration plant.  The  STG+ technology produces drop-in, ultra-low sulfur and benzene 90+-octane gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, as well as organic solvents, directly from syngas derived from natural gas and other carbon-rich feedstocks.

USDA unveils new $150M investment fund

In Iowa, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the creation of a new investment fund that will help propel the growth of small businesses across rural America. The new Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) will now allow USDA to facilitate private equity investments in agriculture-related businesses. Currently, USDA programs exist to help provide loans or loan guarantees to help rural businesses grow, but many small cutting-edge businesses also need equity support in addition to or instead of borrowed funds.

Advantage Capital Partners, which will manage the new fund, and their partners from eight Farm Credit institutions have pledged to invest nearly $150 million into the new effort.

“This new fund will allow innovative small businesses throughout rural America to access the capital they need to grow and create jobs,” Vilsack said. “One of USDA’s top priorities is to help reenergize the rural economy, and we now have a powerful new tool available to help achieve that goal. This new partnership will allow us to facilitate private investment in businesses working in bio-manufacturing, advanced energy production, local and regional food systems, improved farming technologies and other cutting-edge fields.”

The fund is being formed under the USDA’s Rural Business Investment Program (RBIP). USDA utilizes RBIP to license funds to invest in enterprises that will create growth and job opportunities in rural areas, with an emphasis on smaller enterprises. Working through the USDA program enables licensed funds to raise capital from Farm Credit System banks and associations.

Eight Farm Credit institutions providing initial investments in the RBIC fund are: AgStar Financial Services (Mankato, Minn.); AgriBank (St. Paul, Minn.); Capital Farm Credit (Bryan, Texas); CoBank (Denver, Colo.); Farm Credit Bank of Texas (Austin, Texas); Farm Credit Services of America (Omaha, Neb.); Farm Credit Mid-America (Louisville, Ky.); and United Farm Credit Service (Willmar, Minn.).


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