Downsize bioenergy risk while approaching scale: partnering with ZeaChem’s Technology Institute

April 21, 2015 |

For most investors, building a demonstration-scale facility in order to get, and validate, data for the last pre-commercial stages, is a necessary evil somewhere between diaper-changing and a colonoscopy on the “revolting, yet inevitable” meter.

Those who haven’t done rigorous demonstration-scale activities have, in many cases, gone down in flames or certainly gone into what noted energy analyst Pavel Molchanov euphemistically describes as “the penalty box”.

But even for those who have done a rigorous pre-commercial work, the equation reads:

Pre-commercial plant = Time (I don’t have) + Money (I can’t get) + Aggravation (I don’t need).

But what if you are any of the following, new options beckon:

1. Specialty feedstock growers who wish to demonstrate the type and quality of cellulosic hydrolysates that can be produced from their crops.
2. Hydrolysis technologists who either want to run a particular combination of settings on a hydrolysis unit to produce hydrolysates, or who want to run the unit as a pretreatment system to create material that they further process with their own technology either on site or back home at their own facilities.
3. Biologic technologists, who have their own organism that wish to run in an existing seed train as a pilot scale unit or in the demonstration scale production fermenters.
4. Thermochemical technologists who wish to utilize one out of a variety of catalytic reactors.
5. Technologists who have other processing units, such as advanced hydrolysis, recovery or thermochemical systems, that could either supplement or complement the design configuration of a biorefinery.

A new cost-effective option

Caught between a rock and a hard place, what do you do. One new option is ZeaChem, which just announced the ZeaChem Technology Institute & Processing Services in Boardman, OR.


In 2012, ZeaChem completed construction of its 250,000 gallon per year (biofuel equivalent) Demonstration Biorefinery in Boardman, OR. Following construction and commissioning, ZeaChem successfully converted wood into cellulosic sugars, lignin, acids, esters and alcohols.

Since its first fully integrated run in 2013, ZeaChem has continued to optimize its plant’s unit operations. It is actively engineering its 1st Commercial project, which will be located adjacent to the demonstration plant and is continuously developing the portfolio of projects that will follow behind Boardman throughout the United States and around the world. The Demonstration Plant has been a critical stepping stone from lab & pilot scale to first Commercial.

The rationale

Frankly, few companies that build demonstration plants need to run them 100% of the time for their own processes. In many cases, there is downtime between production runs. Working with outside partners is a major time, money and aggravation reducer for partners, and helps support the ZeaChem facility for its own operations.

So, ZeaChem has realized the opportunity to take a supportive role in the industry to assist others with their own pre-commercial scale up efforts. As operational capacity at the Demonstration plant becomes available, ZeaChem has decided to open its doors to third parties who wish to take advantage of its equipment packages and trained operations staff to assist them in their scale up efforts.

It fits the five customer groups mentioned above, and as significant degree of flexibility designed into its units. In addition, ZeaChem works with partners on equipment modifications as well as hosting third parties’ systems on its site.

Is this completely a new thing?

No, ZeaChem has been working successfully with selected partners for the past year. It’s a success story.

Detailed overview of process units and services

You can download a brochure here.

To learn more

Visit, or contact Zac Mitchell, ZeaChem’s Commercial Development Manager, at (303) 838-2218 or [email protected]

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