Acquisitions, new capacity: Heard on the Floor at ABLC 2016, Day 2

February 19, 2016 |

By Edward Dodge, Special to The Digest


Day 2 at ABLC2016 featured another packed schedule of prominent speakers from across the bioeconomy.

Marcel Van Berkel from GFBiochemicals announced that they have acquired Segetis, the green chemistry firm from Minnesota. GFBiochemicals is the leading producer of levulinic acid which can replace a range of petroleum based products. Levulinic acid is a platform chemical produced from cellulosic feedstocks with applications in a variety of markets including personal care products, rubbers, polymers, fuel additives, pharmaceuticals and much more. GFBiochemicals is based in Italy and their first plant in Caserta is expected to scale up to production of 10,000 metric tons per year in 2017.

Comet Biorefining has come out of stealth mode with the announcement of its first commercial plant in Sarnia, Ontario that will produce high purity dextrose sugars from non-food biomass. This plant will produce 60 million pounds per year of dextrose using locally harvested corn stover and wheat straw. The Sarnia plant is located in an industrial park with excellent infrastructure, transportation and access to biomass resources. The high purity dextrose can in turn be converted into organic acids, amino acids, and bioplastics that replace traditional petroleum based resources.

The NEXTstore celebrated its ribbon cutting in a ceremony featuring Jim Lane from Biofuels Digest and Dr. Catherine Woteki from the USDA. The NEXTstore is a retail “store of the future” featuring bio-based plastics and consumer goods that are transforming the markets. Though all of the products, like Coca-Cola bottles, Legos, soaps and papers look just familiar items seen in conventional stores every day, these products are all made from new materials that did not exist a decade ago. The NEXTstore is a real world demonstration of how materials produced using renewable resources can replace fossil based products without sacrificing quality or performance.

Dr. Woteki then gave a talk where she described the urgency behind these efforts as the world faces a food crisis by mid-century due to booming population growth. Agricultural resources must be optimized for major productivity gains while simultaneously diversifying across food, feed, fiber, and fuels while facing major environmental challenges. Clearly, we all have our work cut out for us in the coming years.

Researchers from USDA and the US DOE described how 300 million tons of US biomass is used today for fuels and chemicals, but the government’s vision is to triple that production to 1 billion tons and displacing 30% of petroleum use.

Chris Tindal from the US Navy’s Great Green Fleet program proudly discussed the major milestone the Navy achieved this year when they procured 77,660,000 gallons of biofuels for use in conventional Navy activities. The Navy has approved the use of Fischer-Tropsch and HEFA fuels and more varieties of advanced biofuels are in the pipeline. The Great Green Fleet conducted joint naval exercises with the Italian and Australian navies using biofuel blends and refueling from oilers while at sea. All of the operations went off without a hitch and proved the functional reliability of advanced biofuels used in today’s naval ships and distribution systems without any modifications needed.

Dan Oh, CEO of the Renewable Energy Group gave the keynote address. REG is among the most financially successful biofuels producers and is rapidly expanding through acquisitions and investments in new businesses every quarter. They are a self-funding business that is able to invest $1.5 million per month from free cash flow due to their strong balance sheet. They just announced that they will acquire the Sanimax Biodiesel plant in Wisconsin which follows on their acquisition of various KiOR plant assets in October and the Gray’s Harbor, Washington Biorefinery in September. REG is expanding into Europe with a new headquarters in the Netherlands and now employ over 700 workers. Great job REG!

Iogen CEO Brian Foody discussed the synergies to be found producing cellulosic ethanol in Brazil. At their Costa Pinto project Iogen leveraged an existing sugar cane ethanol facility by adding cellulosic ethanol made from sugarcane bagasse and straw. Iogen provided the technology that allowed the plant to expand its operations by using alternative biomass feedstocks that had not previously been utilized.

Clariant, the global chemicals corporation is looking for a new site to build its first cellulosic ethanol plant using corn stover and bagasse as feedstocks. 250,000 tons of input will produce 50,000 gallons of ethanol and can scale up to 150,000 gallons.

Avantium’s Tom van Aken preached the virtues of PEF bio-plastics as a replacement for traditional PET plastics commonly used in soda bottles and other consumer staples. PEF offers excellent gas barrier and heat resistance properties making it great for food and beverage applications. This next generation polyester enables longer shelf life and improved retention of carbonation in sodas, especially in small bottles that are increasingly popular with consumers.

Algae product producer Cellana announced that they will expand their Hawaii demonstration plant into their first commercial facility. Omega-3 nutritional oils are their anchor product and they are also marketing highly nutritious animal feeds. This first production plant will be small but is expected to provide the impetus to expand with a nearby facility in the next 2 or 3 years.

Anna Rath, CEO of NexSteppe, a producer of specialty varieties of sorghum used as dedicated energy crops described two new varieties of sorghum the company is getting ready to market. NexSteppe currently markets two varieties of sorghum, Palo Alto which is optimized for biomass production and use in biopower and Malibu Sweet which is a sugar crop used for fermentation. Their two new varieties are tentatively called Alta Potenza that is intended for methane production in digesters and Carba Alta which is bred for carbohydrates and cellulose.




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