CIRCA, GazelEnergie to convert coal power plant to renewable chemicals project

September 22, 2021 |

In Norway, Circa Group signed with energy producer GazelEnergie to repurpose a former coal-fired power plant site as part of Flagship EU project ReSolute.

The project

Circa is the recipient of an EU Horizon 2020 Flagship Grant, in part to fund the design, commissioning and operation of the ReSolute plant. Circa also leads the ReSolute project, which is focused on creating a new, sustainably-sourced, safer alternative to traditional, fossil-based solvents.

GazelEnergie is the owner of the Emile Huchet coal-fired power station site, adjacent to the Carling Saint-Avold platform and Total Chemesis Composite Park, in north-eastern France. The company has plans for green reindustrialisation of the site, with renewable heat production and a green hydrogen production project, which attract partners like Circa.

In 2020, the Group successfully lead a consortium to be awarded approximately EUR 11.6 million from the EU Horizon 2020 Flagship Grant to build a 1,000-tonne production plant (the “Resolute Plant”). The ReSolute Plant will be built on a repurposed refinery site owned by the oil and petrochemicals company Total, near Carling in Eastern France. The proceeds from the private placement will be used to build the 1,000 tonne ReSolute plant in France and to further develop the company’s portfolio of chemical derivatives. The capex for the ReSolute Plant is estimated at approximately EUR 32 million, of which approximately EUR 4-5 million will be financed from the EU grant.

The technology backstory

Circa has a patented technology called Furacell for making the platform biomolecule Levoglucosenone (LGO) which is the base for a range of chemicals, including the green solvent Cyrene. Cyrene is a bio-solvent aimed at a more than 1,000,000 tonne market where four of the top five traditional products are under increasing regulatory pressure due to their toxicity. Overall, LGO aims to be a platform molecule for the production of solvents, surfactants, flavors, agrochemicals and biopolymers.

Traditional dipolar aprotic solvents are under strong regulatory pressure due to their toxicity, harmfulness and negative environmental impact. Such solvents are currently used in thousands of manufacturing processes, and are used by the industry in excess of 1,000,0002 tonnes per year in aggregate. 

The four most traditional dipolar aprotic solvents are i) N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), ii) dichloromethane (DCM), iii) dimethylformide (DMF), and iv) dimethylacetamide (DMAc). All are considered toxic substances by the EU. This trend has been especially strong in Europe, where the European Parliament has enacted regulations for Registration, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (“REACh”). Similar regulations are either in place or developing in most jurisdictions around the world. REACh regulations indicate that the traditional dipolar aprotic solvents will be banned once suitable non-toxic alternatives become available in commercial quantities, of which Cyrene is one of very few viable alternatives.3 In October 2020 the European Commission adopted the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability stating that “the transition to chemicals that are safe and sustainable by design is a societal urgency.”

The Cyrene Market

Cyrene belongs to a greater than 1,000,000 tonnes per annum solvent family of dipolar aprotic solvents. This market is estimated to be growing at 3% per annum and almost 80% of this market is made up of solvents labelled by the EU as SVHC’s (Substances of Very High Concern) and being regulated out of the market as alternatives (like Cyrene) become available. Examples are NMP, DMF and DMAc.

Cyrene trials are showing it outperforms traditional dipolar aprotic solvents in higher value applications, representing 20-30% of the total market (approximately 200,000-300,000 tonnes per year). Cyrene is marketed by the Group on “outperform” results and does not rely on just being a sustainable and nontoxic alternative to existing solvents.

Existing molecules currently produced from petrochemicals-, such as butyrolactones, HBO, 1,6-hexanediol and many others can be made from LGO. 

One key opportunity relates to a high potency dairy flavoring, Laiscent, which is a nature-identical molecule (found naturally in dairy products) and has a sweet dairy taste that can be identified even when present in very small quantities. Currently it is only available from current manufacturers in kilogram quantities. The opportunity is to provide food and drink manufacturers with new opportunities to develop novel products and maintain dairy flavors where consumer health demands require a limited use of dairy products, or environmental demands limit the availability of milk products.

Apart from food flavorings, opportunities for LGO derivatives range across several industry sectors from specialty materials through to pharmaceutical intermediates exists, amongst others:

• HBO (a precursor of flavors, drugs and antiviral agents)

• Ribonolactone (a precursor for over 20 coronavirus therapeutics).

• 2HHBO (a polymer precursor for coatings)

• THFDM (a polymer precursor similar to existing diols in the market)

• PT139 (a new broad leafed herbicide)

Overall, Circa is developing molecules and apps for:

i) food manufacturers, including as an example a ‘dairy’-flavor biochemical;

ii) pharmaceutical manufacturers, including intermediates that can be used in the production of

pharmaceutical products for the therapeutic treatment of corona viruses;

iii) electronics manufacturers, including as a solvent in graphene-based printing inks used in organic electronic devices;

iv) recycling companies, including the recycling of lithium-ion battery components; and

v) manufacturers of paints and coatings, including wire coatings

The feedstocks

The process can use a range of waste biomass as feedstock, including sawdust, wood chip, bagasse, straw, and almost any other biomass containing cellulose.

The trials to date

In a joint venture with the Norske Skog Group, the FC5 Plant (the fifth scale-up prototype plant) was developed at Norske Skog Group’s Boyer mill in Tasmania. The FC5 Plant has supplied more than 1,000 Cyrene trials to over 500 academic and industrial customers in Europe, North America, China, Russia, Japan, Korea, India and elsewhere.

Reaction from the stakeholders

Jean-Michel Mazalerat, President of GazelEnergie, said: “The establishment of the ReSolute plant on the site of the Emile Huchet coal-fired power station is a strong signal for the energy transition and the decarbonisation of the region’s industry. It is a firm expression of our strategy to turn the page on coal by redeveloping the site with green projects that will create jobs.”

Tony Duncan, CEO and co-founder of Circa Group, said, “This milestone shows that we are on track with our growth trajectory. The timetable for bringing the ReSolute plant online is ambitious and the Carling site offers us the amenities we need. The repurposing of a former coal-fired power plant site into green chemistry is consistent with Circa’s perception of a circular green economy with safer and more sustainable products for the planet.”

CIRCA added to the Daily Digest Index (DDI)

With this announce, The Digest is adding CIRCA Group to the Daily Digest Index of publicly traded bioeconomy stocks, alongside public companies such as Neste, Twist Biosciences, Beyond Meats, Amyris, Bunge, Archer Daniels Midland, Corteva, Renewable Energy Group, Zymergen, Ginkgo BioWorks and more than 20 others.

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