Chief Pilot: the ABPDU, where the elite meet to defeat petroleum

December 14, 2016 |

Every airline has pilots, but then there’s the Chief Pilot, and in the advanced bioeconomy the chief pilot is known by the ungainly acronym ABPDU, which might as well decode as “All Bioeconomy Processes Developed Upstairs,” but actually stands for the far more modest “Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit.”

It’s run out of the Berkeley Lab, and is the technology center behind the technology centers, if you will, of companies such as Kiverdi, Sylvatex, Perfect Day, Lygos, Microvi, and Greenlight Biosciences to name just a few.





They’ve been operational since 2012, collaborating with researchers in the bio-products industry, the National Labs, and academia to optimize and scale technologies to enable the commercialization of bio-based chemicals, materials, and fuels. Specific among the services are Bio-process Prototyping & Optimization, Concept Development & Validation, Scale-up Integration & Demonstration, plus Funding & Grant Proposals Support.


Pretreatment, saccharification, fermentation, purification & advanced recovery, analytical chemistry, materials handling & solids characterization, and techno-economic analysis? The Unit does it all.

But not limited these days to fuels. Toss in specialty chemicals, food and feed, materials. packaging, industrial chemicals as well.

A cornucopia of partners

The ABPDU has been engaged in process research, development and demonstration for the production of bioplastics (Mango Materials), proteins (Ripple Foods, Clara Foods, Perfect Day, Hampton Creek), bio-based chemicals (Ginkgo Bioworks, Zymochem), cyanobacterial sugars (Heliobiosys), and renewable diesel blendstocks (Sylvatex).







The Sylvatex collaboration

If you haven’t heard of Sylvatex, time to get up to speed on a very interesting technology proposition fronted by one of the bioeconomy’s most irrepressible spirits, Virginia Klausmeier.

What Sylvatex does: Sylvatex is developing a blendstock intermediate that utilizes a large portion of “renewable, combustible, oxygenated free fatty acid (FFA) surfactant”. The FFA is blended into a polar, aqueous media to form a stable blendstock, and then mixed with a base solution (diesel, gasoline or other applications) to produce a finished product (nanoscale reverse micelle). We aim to develop a library of surfactant inputs that are readily available, low in cost and have a very low-carbon intensity as we scale our products in different applications/markets

What they did together: Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) has collaborated with Sylvatex on exploring different options of processing and analysis of various feedstock composition.


The HelioBioSys collaboration

One of the entities developing a community of cyanobacteria as a microbial producer of chemicals, materials and fuels beat is HelioBioSys, co-founded by David Smernoff and Rocco Mancinelli, who have both been long-timers in and around the NASA Ames community in the Bay Area.


What HelioBioSys does: HelioBioSys uses a defined community of marine cyanobacteria (a consortium) to produce a novel extracellular polysaccharide suitable for a variety of biobased materials, including biodegradable plastics, renewable chemicals and fuels. They couple the unique traits of our consortium with an efficient seawater cultivation system designed to have low capital and operational costs and simple processing of excreted polysaccharides.

What they did together: Heliobiosys and researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) conducted research to validate recovery and downstream applications, focusing on three key areas: process development for recovery and saccharification, compositional analysis of the excreted polysaccharides, and fermentation of sugars resulting from saccharification.

In order to further validate this process, HelioBioSys, Sandia National Laboratory and the ABPDU will evaluate growth on a larger scale to obtain monomeric sugar types and yields, fermentation suitability, and by-product opportunities under a U.S. DOE Small Business Vouchers Pilot grant. Data generated from this study at SNL’s indoor algal testbed facility and the ABPDU will improve an end to end techno-economic analysis of biofuels and high margin biomaterials that meet customer specifications for polymer technical performance, price and sustainability criteria.

Making it easier on the pocketbook

And, it can cost less than one thinks, via the DOE’s Small Business Voucher program. Through this innovative project aimed at facilitating process development, the Bioenergy Technologies Office in August provided $1 million in vouchers to assist three companies advance their energy technologies that will be collaborating with ABPDU. One way HelioBioSys, and the other two are:

• ZymoChem, Berkeley and Emeryville, California (partnership with LBNL): ZymoChem is engineering microbes to eliminate carbon loss during the production of chemicals, such as adipic acid, from renewable feedstocks by designing completely new biosynthetic pathways. ZymoChem will work with the LBNL Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) to validate E. coli’s capability to tolerate high product concentrations during fermentation and demonstrate the ability to recover purified products for customers to evaluate.

• Mango Materials, Albany, California (partnerships with LBNL and LANL): Mango Materials has a biogas fermentation process to produce sustainable and biodegradable biopolymers. The company is seeking to improve its ability to cost-effectively separate and de-water polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) from the fermentation broth and non-PHA cell mass. The goal is to further develop a cost-effective separation process for intracellular products with a path forward to scale-up at the LBNL ABPDU.

If you’re making these, you might have a fit.

ABPDU produces, handles and analyzes alcohols, organic acids, hydrocarbons, terpenes, ketones, fatty acids, lipids, proteins and enzymes.

Who’s There?


The Equipment at ABPDU


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