Wood chips take acid bath en route to biochemicals

Startup Virdia is joining hundreds of biotech companies trying to make low-cost sugar to replace oil and food crops.

The company today announced new financing, including $30 million of venture capital from existing investors Khosla Ventures, Burrill & Company and Tamar Ventures. Mississippi also provided the company with $75 million in low-interest loans and tax incentives to build an operation in the state.

Founded in 2007, Virdia uses acid hydrolysis to separate the sugar from the cellulose in wood chips. Once it has done so, the company intends to sell the resulting sugar into the existing "commodity carbohydrate markets&… Read more

Oil refiner chips in for wood-to-biofuel plant

After years of delays, biotech company Mascoma appears to have the funding to build a wood chip-to-ethanol plant.

The company today said that fuel refiner and investor Valero Energy will create a joint venture to build a $232 million plant in Kinross, Mich. The plant will convert lumber used for paper into ethanol using Mascoma's streamlined production process.

The companies said that the plant will be able to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year, which can be expanded to double that. Construction is expected to start in the next six months and be completed by the … Read more

Cellulosic ethanol maker Range Fuels goes belly up

Range Fuels, a government-backed company that represented high hopes for biofuels, will have to sell off its assets after failing to produce fuel, according to a report.

Bloomberg on Friday reported that the company is being forced to foreclose by the Department of Agriculture and sell equipment from its biofuel plant in Soperton, Georgia. The company had stopped operating in January after failing to meet technical goals.

The Colorado-based company had received funding from the Departments of Agriculture and Energy as well as venture capital investors, including Vinod Khosla.

The Georgia plant was designed to take wood chips from the … Read more

U.S. unlikely to hit advanced biofuel goal, study says


The United States will likely fail to reach its long-term mandate for making advanced ethanol from trees, grasses, and crop waste unless producers innovate significantly, a scientific advisory group said yesterday.

The National Research Council's comments are the latest sign that backers of alternative fuels must wait longer for "next-generation" ethanol. Touted as the motor fuel of the future, it has struggled with high production costs and other setbacks.

"Absent major technological innovation or policy changes, the...mandated consumption of 16 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent cellulosic biofuels is unlikely to be met in 2022," a … Read more

Chrysler teams with cellulosic-ethanol firm ZeaChem

Chrysler and ZeaChem today announced a deal meant to promote cellulosic ethanol and spiff up the automaker's green credentials.

The two companies have a memorandum of understanding to accelerate development of ethanol made from non-food sources. Through a partnership, Chrysler intends to "strengthen the credibility" of cellulosic ethanol with regulators, according to a statement.

Automakers are expected to announce more stringent fuel economy standards with better engine efficiency, hybrids, and electric vehicles. But biofuels remain part of the country's efforts to reduce dependence on oil.

ZeaChem has a process that uses microbes to convert woody biomassRead more

Cellulosic-ethanol industry struggles to take off


The great promise of a car fuel made from cheap, clean-burning prairie grass or wood chips--and not from expensive corn that feeds the world--is more mirage than reality.

Despite years of research, testing, and some hype, the next-generation ethanol industry is far from the commercial success envisioned by President George W. Bush in 2006, when he pledged so-called cellulosic biofuels would be "practical and competitive" by 2012.

Instead the only real alternative to traditional gasoline is ethanol made from corn, a fuel environmentalists say is not green at all because of the energy-intensive nature of modern farming.

Critics … Read more

Trash-to-fuel outfit Enerkem rakes in $60 million

Enerkem today said that it raised $60 million from fuel refiner Valero and others to build plants that convert municipal waste to biofuels.

The company said that investment from Valero could lead to a commercial agreement between them. Other companies to invest include existing investor Waste Management, Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, and Cycle Capital.

There are a number of companies with methods for converting municipal garbage into fuels, but Enerkem is one of the farthest along. The company said the money will finance construction of future plants and its third ethanol plant in Pontotoc, Mississippi, which is slated to … Read more

Wood-to-ethanol plant gets taker in oil refiner

Biofuel company Mascoma said today it has the financing and the customer needed to build a biorefinery in Michigan to make ethanol from wood.

The company said that oil refiner Valero Energy will invest up to $50 million in equity needed for the project, which is expected to start construction later this year.

The entire project is expected to cost $350 million which will be funded by a Department of Energy loan, the state of Michigan, Valero, and other investors, a company representative said. With the Energy Department loan guarantee, Mascoma's subsidiary in Michigan, Frontier Renewable Resources, expects to … Read more

BP to buy ethanol fuel plant from Verenium

BP, still mired in the ongoing Gulf oil disaster, has signed a deal to acquire the cellulosic ethanol fuel business of Verenium.

BP said Thursday it will pay $98.3 million in cash for Verenium's technology and ethanol plant in Jennings, La.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Verenium, which has business lines other than ethanol, will retain its commercial enzyme business and its biotech-related research and development.

The Louisiana site, which is a pilot-scale plant as opposed to a commercial-scale one, uses bagasse, the residue from sugar cane processing. The bagasse is used to make ethanol, which is then blended with … Read more

Novozymes to launch ethanol product


DAVOS, Switzerland--Danish biotech company Novozymes will launch in the first quarter this year a new enzyme to produce transport fuel from agricultural waste, Chief Executive Steen Riisgaard told Reuters on Saturday.

That was the company's firmest guidance yet on the timing of the release of the new product, called Cellic, said Riisgaard.

Novozymes has a 47 percent market share in the global enzyme industry, for use for example in the food and washing products industry, as well as bio-ethanol.

U.S. ethanol producer POET has trialed the Novozymes enzyme on a limited basis for a couple of months, but following the launch it would be available generally on a commercial basis.

"It's going to be ready in commercial quantities. You have to be able to do it at a big scale. We are building a facility at a new factory in Nebraska just for this purpose," Riisgaard said.

He said the company could show that its new product would be competitive with corn-based ethanol and gasoline. … Read more