Biofuels Digest’s Advanced Bioeconomy Awards for 2015 

February 16, 2015 |

BD-Awards-2015-logoProject of the Year, Deal of the Year, Partnership of the Year, Chemical of the Year, and Cap Raise of the Year — who are the big winners?

Each year, the Digest recognizes projects, feedstocks, processing technology breakthroughs, novel or improved molecules, and bioeconomy pioneers in the Biofuels Digest Awards — selected by the Digest’s editorial board.

Since many projects, especially early-stage ventrues en route to steady-state operations and commercial scale, are occasionally veiled behind a wall of unfiled patents, trade secrets and NDA agreements — we make awards of the basis of publicly available information at the time, and recognize technologies and organizations that have made the most impact on the marketplace at the time.

With that caveat, there’s nothing more fun than giving a shout out to companies, people and technologies that beamed brightly in 2015. Congratulations to all the winners — who we will be recognizing with an awards reception at the 2015 Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference in Washington DC, on the evening of March 11th.

Projects of the Year: Cellulosic Biofuels at scale (GranBio, Abengoa Bioenergy, POET-DSM, Raizen)

Without a doubt, the advanced bioeconomy story of the year in the past 12 months has been the long-awaited commercial-scale debut of cellulosic biofuels — today, a half-dozen companies have reached commercial scale and more than 100 million gallons in renewable fuels capacity is in place.

The four projects we have selected to honor this year were not the first out — Iogen and Beta Renewables took those honors; Enerkem (honored last year) is also now at commercial scale, Dupont’s first commercial is imminent, and and we expect several more technologies such as Inbicon, Fulcrum Clariant to reach scale before long — and there are others such as Mercurius, VIrent, RedRock, Mascoma technology and many others that we exoect before the end of the decade.

But to quote The Grateful Dead, “what a long, strange trip it’s been” and these four companies have reached a significant milestone of mechanical completion — each is now working its way towards steady-state operations at nameplate capacity.

The parade of plant grand openings was impressive all year: POET-DSM and GranBio in September, Abengoa in October, and Raizen (using Iogen technology) in December. And we expect that the momentum will continue with an opening by DuPont in the first half of the year.

Deal of the Year: REG (Dynamic Fuels, Syntroleum)

Renewable Energy Group announced in June that its wholly-owned subsidiary, REG Synthetic Fuels, LLC, has closed its acquisition of substantially all of the assets of Syntroleum Corporation. Syntroleum pioneered renewable diesel fuel and Fischer-Tropsch gas-to-liquids technologies and built a large IP portfolio, including 186 patents issued or pending, which REG will now own. The assets acquired from Syntroleum include a 50% ownership interest in Dynamic Fuels, which owns a 75 million gallon per year nameplate capacity renewable diesel biorefinery located in Geismar, Louisiana. REG has a separate pending agreement with Tyson Foods to acquire the remaining interests in Dynamic Fuels.

In May 2014, Renewable Energy Group reached an agreement with Tyson Foods, Inc. to acquire Tyson’s 50% ownership position in Dynamic Fuels. Completion of the transaction with Tyson Foods, which was contingent upon the closing of REG’s December 2013 announced agreement to acquire substantially all of the assets of Syntroleum Corporation , will give REG full ownership of Dynamic Fuels and its 75-million gallon per year nameplate capacity renewable diesel biorefinery in Geismar, Louisiana. Tyson and Syntroleum formed Dynamic Fuels in 2007 as a 50/50 joint venture. The Geismar facility, completed in 2010, was the first large scale renewable diesel biorefinery built in the U.S.

Partnership of the Year: Navy, Fulcrum Bioenergy, Cathay Pacific

Though they never signed a formal agreement amongst all three — Fulcrum signed bilaterally with the Navy and Cathay, this was an instrumental deal in getting a long-awaited technology ready for commercial scale.

The Navy Deal? the Department of Defense awarded $210 million under the Defense Production Act to Emerald Biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy and Red Rock Bio towards the construction of biorefineries that produce cost-competitive, drop-in military biofuels.

Fulcrum is, among the three awardees, the best-known, and is proceeding toward closing $175 million in financing to fund construction of its first municipal solid waste to low-carbon fuels plant, the Sierra BioFuels Plant and to fund the development of future projects. The project is expected to be completed in 2015. $105 million of the $175 million is the USDA loan guarantee, which the company secured in a conditional commitment in August 2012 and was definitively awarded last week.

Cathay? The company had already contracted with Cathay Pacific Airways to supply 375 million gallons of fuel over 10 years, accounting for about 2 percent of the airline’s fuel usage. The USDA expects the Nevada facility to produce 11 million gallons of renewable fuel each year. Plant construction is estimated to cost $266 million; the USDA’s loan will cover 40% of that.

In spring 2013, Fulcrum successfully demonstrated the conversion of municipal solid waste (MSW) into jet and diesel fuels.

Under the grants, the companies will build biorefineries to produce military spec fuel that is expected to cost the US military, on a weighted average, less than $3.50 per gallon — or cost competitive with petroleum-based fuels, with availability expected as soon as 2016, and have a 50 percent of greater reduction of emissions compared to conventional fuels. The biorefineries, once complete, will have a combined capacity for producing 100 million gallons of military-spec jet fuel and marine diesel.

Process of the Year: Honeywell’s UOP Green Fuels Technology

There are plenty of skeptics about the economics of green jet fuel for commercial aviation with the technology of today — but no one disagrees that this UOP technology works, and works great, reliably, repeatedly and at scale — and that’s what we are recognizing with this process award.

UOP has been continuing to deploy Honeywell Green Fuel in a series of commercial announcements. Most recently, UOP technology was linked to an 80 million gallon project that is at the heart of the US Navy’s advances into biofuels. Not to mention a pair of large scale (120-130 mgy) renewable diesel projects in the US, and an absolutely massive 300 million gallon project for  Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

In October 2014, UOP announced that its advanced process technology will be used to produce renewable diesel for the U.S. military through the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Drop-in Biofuels Production Project. Emerald Biofuels LLC will use Honeywell’s UOP/Eni Ecofining process technology.

In August 2014, word went around of a 120 million gallon renewable diesel and jet fuel project that’s been announced for South Point, in Lawrence County in the southeastern part of the Buckeye State. Scheduled for completion in 2017. Turned out that the massive project proposes to utilize Honeywell UOP technology.

In July 2014, UOP announced that its green fuels process technology was selected by Petrixo Oil & Gas to produce renewable jet fuel and renewable diesel at a new refinery to be built in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. At the time, Petrixo said it would invest $800 million to build the new refinery, which will have a design capacity of 1 million tons per year of biofuel products including biojet, green diesel, bio-naphtha, bio-LPG, and biodiesel

In May 2014, Honeywell-owned UOP partnered with the Diamond Green Diesel plant in Norco, La. to use its UOP/Eni Ecofining process technology. Able to produce over 130 million gallons of green diesel annually, the plant is the largest of its kind in the U.S.

Renewable chemical of the year — bio-succinic acid (BioAmber, Reverdia)

While several molecules have been in the newsflow this year, succinic acid “went ballstic” we wrote in July 2014 when BioAmber has signed a 210,000 ton per year take-or-pay contract for bio-based succinic acid with Vinmar International. Under the terms of the 15-year agreement, Vinmar has committed to purchase and BioAmber Sarnia has committed to sell 10,000 tons of succinic acid per year from the 30,000 ton per year capacity plant that is currently under construction in Sarnia, Canada.

As part of the new succinic acid master off-take agreement, this second plant will be expanded to an annual capacity of 100,000 tons of bio-BDO and 70,000 tons of bio-succinic acid.  Vinmar plans to make a 10% or greater equity investment in the expanded plant and has committed to off-take and BioAmber has committed to sell a minimum of 50,000 tons per year of bio-succinic acid for 15 years following the plant’s start-up date.  Vinmar also has the option to secure additional bio-succinic acid tonnage under the take-or-pay contract if BioAmber has not committed the remaining volume at the time the plant’s financing is secured.

Let’s not forget also that Reverdia, which reached commercial scale in 2012 and currently has a production capacity of about 10,000 tonnes per year of Biosuccinium at their Cassano, Italy plant, is now licensing its Biosuccinium succinic acid, a building block for the production of polymers and chemicals including PBS, resins for paints and coatings, phthalate-free plasticizers and polyester polyols for polyurethanes. The acid was the first non-fossil feedstock-derived chemical building block that allows customers in the chemical industry to choose a bio-based alternative with a lower eco-footprint for a broad range of applications, from packaging to footwear.

Cap Raise of the Year: LanzaTech

With the news in December 2014 that the New Zealand Superannuation Fund had made a US$60 million equity investment in LanzaTech— the company raised nearly double its original target of $60-$80 million with a total of $120 million to date.

Last March, the round had a first close of $60 million led by Mitsui & Co. with a $20M investment. In all, the round to date includes new investors NZ Super Trust, Mitsui, Siemens via its Venture Capital unit, CICC Growth Capital Fund I and existing investors: Khosla Ventures, Qiming Venture Partners, K1W1 and the Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund. Existing investors Soft Bank Capital, PETRONAS Technology Ventures, and Dialog Group were not among the announced investors so far in this round.

The Series D funds, rather, will be used to extend LanzaTech’s core gas fermentation platform and further develop LanzaTech’s product portfolio. To date, products include fuels such as ethanol or jet fuel and commodity chemicals such as butadiene used in nylon production or propylene used in plastics manufacture.

Proceeds from this round not be used towards the first commercial plant, which is now slated to be operational in 2016. That first commercial facility is fully financed by BaoSteel, one of the largest steel manufacturers in China, and will use steel mill off gases to produce fuels and chemicals. The LanzaTech-Baosteel New Energy Joint Venture will operate the plant and it will produce ethanol and 2,3 Butanediol (BDO) at an annualized capacity of 20,000 tpa (10-12 millions gallons per year). A planned second commercial with Shougang is targeted to produce 25 million gallons of fuel per year.

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