The bioeconomy jump to light speed: 10 storylines shaking the world: Exxon, J-M, KLM, UGI, Amyris, Tesla, Origin, more

January 12, 2022 |

In recent days, we’ve had 10 stories that shook the world. The players are so big, the technologies so ambitious, the scale so huge and the risks in some cases so high — we’ve grouped them together into one Big Story. These are ‘Quakers, as in earthquakes.

1. ExxonMobil expands interest in biofuels, acquires stake in Biojet AS. 

In the past 24 hours, we hear that ExxonMobil is expanding its interests in biofuels, acquiring a 49.9% stake in Biojet AS, a Norwegian biofuels company that plans to convert forestry and wood-based construction waste into lower-emissions biofuels and biofuel components. This, on the heels of an announce that ExxonMobil Neste will distribute of Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel at the largest airports in France, in preparation of the 1 percent SAF mandate introduced by the French government and effective on Jan 1, 2022.

2. KLM goes to 0.5% SAF per flight, passenger option to add more 

In the Netherlands, KLM will start adding 0.5% Sustainable Aviation Fuel for flights departing from Amsterdam. In addition, KLM will offer its customers the option of purchasing an extra amount of sustainable fuel. In this manner, KLM aims to stimulate the market for SAF. The face of travel is set to change in the future and SAF will play an essential role in this regard. In addition to fleet renewal and further innovation within the company and sector, KLM is committed to bringing about an energy transition.

KLM said: “Thanks to our customers who participate in the Corporate and Cargo SAF Programme, KLM already has a relatively substantial share of the global SAF market today. Yet with a share of 0.18% in 2019, it is still less than 1% of our total fuel consumption. We realize that the 0.5% standard admixture on passenger tickets is a very small step, but an important one in the right direction and we hope other airlines will follow soon. We will have to work with all parties around us and come up with rock-solid solutions and innovations to further open the market for SAF.”

3. UGI backs Vertimass in the race for Alcohol-to-jet

In Pennsylvania, UGI has entered into a 15-year agreement with California-based technology developer, Vertimass, to utilize their catalytic technology to produce renewable fuels from renewable-ethanol in the U.S. and Europe.

UGI expects to invest either solely, jointly with Vertimass or in partnership with third parties to build and operate multiple production facilities over the next 15 years in locations across the U.S. and Europe, significantly increasing the supply of renewable-propane and SAF. UGI anticipates a total investment of roughly $500 million for the bolt-on production facilities over a 15-year period, including potential third party investment, with total production target from these aggregated facilities of approximately 1 billion gallons of combined renewable fuels per annum. The goal is to have the first production facility onstream in fiscal year 2024 with an annual production target of approximately 50 million gallons of combined renewable fuels.

Of huge interest, for two reasons, First, it’s a big step forward for another alcohol-to-fuels competitor. Second, Vertimass gets a very high conversion efficiency and seems to avoid the NLACM problem that you can’t get enough price or volume out of the jet fuel to justify the cost of the ethanol. Another bonus in this news, up to 50% of the total production capacity from the facilities can be renewable-propane that will support UGI’s ongoing efforts to provide innovative, low-carbon, sustainable energy solutions to its customers.

Vertimass topped the news with another announce that it inked a letter of intent with European Energy  to integrate technologies for capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into hydrocarbon products. This combination takes advantage of European Energy’s expertise in capturing carbon dioxide from waste sources to produce methanol, as well as Vertimass’ technology to convert that methanol into jet, diesel, and gasoline fuels and chemicals. The team completed an initial proof of concept laboratory research for coupling their technologies earlier this year.

4. Major player alert: JM’s foray into SAF technology

Johnson Matthey has launched its HyCOgen tech – designed to help convert captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen into sustainable aviation fuel. By combining HyCOgen with FT CANS Fischer Tropsch technology (developed in collaboration with bp), Johnson Matthey offers an integrated, scalable solution for use in the efficient and cost-effective production of renewable power based SAF. HyCOgen, Johnson Matthey’s Reverse Water Gas Shift technology, is a catalyzed process to convert green hydrogen and CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO), which is combined with additional hydrogen to form synthesis gas (syngas), a crucial building block in the manufacture of fuels and chemicals. The integration with the FT CANS technology provides an end to end, optimized and highly scalable process that turns over 95% of the CO2 into high quality synthetic crude oil. This synthetic crude oil can be further upgraded into sustainable drop-in fuel products including aviation fuels, renewable diesel and naphtha.

5. Methane into methanol at room temperature

A team of researchers from Stanford University and the University of Leuven in Belgium have come up with a process to convert methane into methanol at room temp. Their experiments to date have found that as methane is infused into porous iron zeolites, methanol is rapidly produced at room temperature with no additional heat or energy required. By comparison, the conventional industrial process for making methanol from methane requires temperatures of 1000°C and extreme high pressure.

The researchers note that “If natural gas, of which methane is the primary component, could be converted economically into methanol, the resulting liquid fuel would be much more easily stored and transported than natural gas and pure hydrogen. That also would greatly reduce the emissions of methane from natural gas processing plants and pipelines. Today, escaped methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide, nearly negates the environmental advantages of natural gas over oil and coal.”

Amazing advance. Scaling this is quite another thing. A sign that times have changed but the scale-up work from this point forward may well be a sign that things haven’t yet changed enough.

6. Watts in the Ocean?

In Israel, researchers from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have developed a new method that harvests an electrical current directly from seaweed. Certain bacteria have the ability to transfer electrons to electrochemical cells to produce electrical current. The bacteria need to be constantly fed and some of them are pathogenic.

The idea, which came to the doctoral student Yaniv Shlosberg while swimming at the beach, has been developed by a consortium of researchers from three Technion faculties who are members of the Nancy and Stephen Grand Technion Energy Program, along with a researcher from the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute. The researchers have presented their new method for collecting an electrical current directly from macroalgae (seaweed) in Biosensors and Bioelectronics. The paper describes results obtained from researchers from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, the Faculty of Biology, the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, GTEP and IOLR. The research looks at the use of living organisms as the source of electrical currents in microbial fuel cells (MFC).  The source of electrons can be from photosynthetic bacteria, especially cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae).  In the new study, the researchers from the Technion and IOLR decided to try to solve this issue using a new photosynthetic source for the current – macroalgae. 

7. Amyris, ImmunityBio form JV accelerate next-generation COVID-19 vaccine

Hard to believe that, 12 months after the first generation of vaccines came on the market and had great success and astounding global take-up, now we need a next-generation of vaccines. Using RNA gives the major players a shot at developing super-fast responses to new variants. Case in point, Amyris and ImmunityBio expect completion of successful human trials and after the hoped-for regulatory approval, the joint venture’ is targeting 2022 for a vaccine targeting underserved parts of the world where current vaccine technology is challenged due to cost and supply chain limitations.

8. Origin Materials, Mitsui to industrialize carbon-negative chemicals and materials

In Japan and California, Origin Materials and Mitsui & Co., Ltd. said they will rapidly develop and industrialize new sustainable carbon-negative products for the automotive, chemicals, electronics, packaging, textiles, construction, and personal care industries based on Origin Materials’ patented technology platform. The partnership will leverage Mitsui’s global supply chain strength, access to Japanese and international markets, and leadership in business innovation. As part of the partnership, Mitsui signed a multi-year capacity reservation agreement to purchase sustainable carbon-negative materials from Origin Materials.“This partnership reflects our shared commitment to driving sustainable growth, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the partnership represents further progress in Origin’s mission to enable the world’s transition to sustainable materials.”

9. Tesla sales rocking

In the pandemic, some people thought carmakers would sink to their knees and particularly those dependent on lots and lots of electronics and chips. Other people thought that perhaps the vogue for electric vehicles would fade under the pressure of the pandemic on personal finances and desire for advanced mobility at a time when people are often stuck at home. Not so, Cowen reports that “Tesla posted 4Q21 deliveries of 308.6k, well above our 260.5k estimate and company provided consensus of 265.7k.  Model 3/Y deliveries and results came in at 296,850, 18% above the Cowen estimate. Model S/X deliveries of 11,750 came in 17% above our 10,013 estimate. That’s ~87% delivery growth in FY21, well above Elon Musk’s expectation of 50% growth for the year.” Tesla has some older designs now and competitors are catching on — but my oh my, were the skeptics wrong on deliveries. Doesn’t mean the combustion market will disappear overnight but this is a Blockbuster moment in more than the literal sense, if you take my meaning. 

10. Monolith lands conditional $1B loan guarantee for turquoise hydrogen

Monolith has received conditional approval for a $1.04 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. Established via the Title XVII Innovative Energy Loan Guarantee Program, the loan will allow Monolith to expand its clean hydrogen and carbon black production facilities in Hallam, Nebraska, U.S.A.

Monolith is targeting hydrogen, ammonia and carbon black with its methane pyrolysis process.  Carbon black is a material found in many everyday products but is perhaps most commonly known for its use in tires. Leading tire manufacturers including Goodyear and Michelin expressed their support for the D.O.E.’s conditional approval and Monolith’s technology.

“As the only U.S.-headquartered tire manufacturer, it’s especially rewarding to be at the connection point of significant U.S. innovation with Monolith and the commitment of the Department of Energy to sustainable outcomes,” said Richard J. Kramer, chairman, chief executive officer and president, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. “We are excited to work with Monolith to reduce our carbon footprint and further our use of alternative materials as we continue to deliver industry-leading products.”

Monolith expects to use much of the clean hydrogen produced from its Olive Creek expansion for the production of ammonia distributed in the U.S. Corn belt. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Top Stories

Thank you for visting the Digest.