Renmatix acquires Mascoma demonstration plant in New York

May 5, 2015 |

renmatix-logoAnother step towards commercial scale, aimed at “secure supply” of cellulose-lignin solids for Renmatix’ Georgia facility

Renmatix announced that it has acquired existing assets of the former Mascoma corporation’s 56,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Rome, NY. The new Feedstock Processing Facility (FPF) is dedicated to the first step in conversion to cellulosic sugar (from different types of biomass materials) utilizing proprietary Plantrose process conditions. This move creates a secure supply for Renmatix and its development partners at the IPC in Kennesaw, GA., where the second step in production of Plantro sugars is performed.

When in Rome

Bottom line, cellulosic biomass consites of three fractions — hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. In any process aimed at making something from solid cellulosic biomass, you fractionate, then separate the fractions into liquid sugar streams.

But sometimes it feels like splitting an almond nut with your bare fingers. You know the value is in there, and it is maddening to try and get to it.

In a nutshell, this is what the Renmatix process does. In step one, biomass is mixed with water to make a slurry, and in a less harsh environment the C5 sugars (hemicellulose) are separated out through hydrolysis. After you separate the solids from the liquids, you have a liquid C5 sugar stream and a solid fraction consisting of cellulose and lignin.

As Renmatix observes in describing its process:

“The relative ease of hydrolysis of the hemicelluloses compared to the recalcitrant cellulose necessitates this two-step process in order to preserve the C5 sugar that would be rapidly destroyed under the more severe conditions necessary for cellulose dissolution into C6 sugar. The products from the fractionation reactor are then sent to solid/liquid filtration and stored.”

This is the process that will take place in Rome, at the old Mascoma demonstration facility, which was originlly completed in December 2008 as one of the largest facilities converting non-food biomass into cellulosic ethanol in the United States. The facility had a production capacity of up to 200,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, and had the flexibility to run on numerous biomass feedstocks including wood chips, tall grasses, corn stover and sugar cane bagasse.

Down to Kennesaw

The company’s “secret sauce” is its signature second-step, in which supercritial water, under high pressure, is used to separate the residual lignin from the cellulose, to create a lignin product and a liquid C6 sugar stream. More about that process here.

As the company moves towards commercial scale, it would need larger quantities of lignin-cellulose solid material to work with.

Option one, build a completely new larger-scale unit in Kennesaw to perform the first step of conversion. Option two, acquire a facility like Mascoma’s which is already proven to be able to handle the incoming biomass streams, and adapt it to the first step of the Renmatix process. It comes down to the economics and the timelines — and clearly the Mascoma facility was the choice. We expect that, given that the market for fully-outfitted cellulosic biofuels demonstration plants is not large, Renmatix got a good deal, though terms were not disclosed.

On the other hand, with Renmatix approaching commercial scale like a freight train, our surmise is that the time and distraction factors played a role in the decision.

The Renmatix re-cap

The deal is the most recent in a series of strategic moves and prominent milestones for Renmatix over the last nine months, including: a Series D investment from French energy group, Total, the acquisition of Sweden-based REAC’s intellectual property portfolio, and a significant expansion of the company’s Integrated Plantrose Complex (IPC) facility in Georgia.  Each of these transactions advance Renmatix on its path to commercialization of the Plantrose technology, including fulfillment and execution of previously announced JDAs with key licensing partners. Expansion of biomass processing, on-going partner production runs, and integration across the supply chain, serve in anticipation of commercial biorefinery investment activity by Plantrose licensors.

“This acquisition strengthens the company and our value proposition for investors and partner licensees,” said CEO Mike Hamilton. “In addition to standard technical or IP based investments & acquisitions, the opportunity to acquire the former Mascoma location and equipment allows us to economically utilize a broad range of biomass, and further optimize the operating conditions in our Plantrose process. This unique equipment in our new Rome location gives us increased flexibility and quality control that can be applied across multiple feedstocks.”

The company has hired 12 full-time employees locally, as it begins operations in Rome. “We’re pleased to welcome Renmatix, an accomplished leader and enabler of bioindustrial technology,” said Anthony J. Picente, Jr., Oneida County Executive. “This is a real positive for the City of Rome and the County as we continue to build our economic vitality through an increasingly diversified industrial hub.”

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