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The DOE Funding Recipients

I am so far behind on the things that I have been intending to write. It is hard to believe that it has already been over a week since the most recent US DOE biorefinery grants were announced. I have been meaning to list them and comment, but I have finally decided just to list them without too much comment. Let’s just say that some of these names have been around for a while and have issued a lot of press releases, but they haven’t produced any biofuel.

The reason for keeping my comments to a minimum is that I have potential conflicts of one sort or another with several of these companies or projects. Sometimes it is just that I know some of the people involved; in other cases it is more complicated than that. But I don’t want to be accused of possible conflicts of interest by getting into some of the names/technologies that I am surprised to see listed. I know that there were also a number of high profile companies (i.e., they issue a lot of press releases) who did not make the cut.

It is probably worth a future post to check into the six prospective cellulosic ethanol plants funded by the DOE in February 2007 (see the list at the bottom of my post here). As far as I know only one – Broin/POET – has completed a project from those funds that is producing cellulosic ethanol.

Below is the list of recent award recipients, from A(lgenol) to Z(eachem), as compiled by Biofuels Digest (the list/description is verbatim from the DOE announcement, but the original DOE link is offline right now). I embedded links to all of the companies. There were nineteen projects awarded, for a grant total of up to $564 million.

And if you ever wondered how the DOE determines the winners and losers, the New York Times did an interesting story on that a few days ago:

How DOE Dealt With a ‘Tsunami’ of Clean-Tech Applicants

The outpouring of grants — and the preponderance of unsuccessful applicants — has stirred curiosity and some complaints over the DOE rating process.

The review involved a series of screening steps that included technology capability, job creation, likelihood of success, and ability to generate matching funds, DOE says.

Rogers was asked whether DOE would make public the winners’ applications and the review teams’ analysis, to shed more light on the decision-making.

“Our plan is not to make that public. First off, all of the [private-sector] reviewers are doing this as a matter of public service, and we don’t need to draw them into getting interviewed about every application.”

The Winners

Bluefire Ethanol
DOE Grant: $81,134,686
Non-fed funding: $223,227,314

Fulton, MS: This project will construct a facility that produces ethanol fuel from woody biomass, mill residue, and sorted municipal solid waste. The facility will have the capacity to produce 19 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Demonstration Scale

BioEnergy International
DOE Grant: $50,000,000
Non-fed funding: $89,589,188

Lake Providence, LA: This project will biologically produce succinic acid from sorghum. The process being developed displaces petroleum based feedstocks and uses less energy per ton of succinic acid produced than its petroleum counterpart.

Enerkem
DOE Grant: $50,000,000
Non-fed funding: $90,470,217

Pontotoc, MS: This project will be sited at an existing landfill and use feedstocks such as woody biomass and biomass removed from municipal solid waste to produce ethanol and other green chemicals through gasification and catalytic processes.

INEOS New Planet BioEnergy
DOE Grant: $50,000,000
Non-fed funding: $50,000,000

Vero Beach, FL: This project will produce ethanol and electricity from wood and vegetative residues and construction and demolition materials. The facility will combine biomass gasification and fermentation, and will have the capacity to produce 8 million gallons of ethanol and 2 megawatts of electricity per year by the end of 2011.

Sapphire Energy
DOE Grant: $50,000,000
Non-fed funding: $85,064,206

Columbus, NM: This project will cultivate algae in ponds that will ultimately be converted into green fuels, such as jet fuel and diesel, using the Dynamic Fuels refining process.

Pilot and Demonstration Scale FOA – Pilot Scale

Algenol Biofuels
DOE grant: $25,000,000
Other funding: $33,915,478

Freeport, TX: This project will make ethanol directly from carbon dioxide and seawater using algae. The facility will have the capacity to produce 100,000 gallons of fuel grade ethanol per year.

American Process
DOE grant: $17,944,902
Other funding: $10,148,508

Alpena, MI: This project will produce fuel and potassium acetate, a compound with many industrial applications, using processed wood generated by Decorative Panels International, an existing hardboard manufacturing facility in Alpena. The pilot plant will have the capacity to produce up to 890,000 gallons of ethanol and 690,000 gallons of potassium acetate per year starting in 2011.

Amyris Biotechnologies
DOE grant: $25,000,000
Other funding: $10,489,763

Emeryville, CA: This project will produce a diesel substitute through the fermentation of sweet sorghum. The pilot plant will also have the capacity to co-produce lubricants, polymers, and other petro-chemical substitutes.

Archer Daniels Midland
DOE funding: $24,834,592
Other funding: $10,946,609

Decatur, IL: This project will use acid to break down biomass which can be converted to liquid fuels or energy. The ADM facility will produce ethanol and ethyl acrylate, a compound used to make a variety of materials, and will also recover minerals and salts from the biomass that can then be returned to the soil.

Clearfuels Technology
DOE funding: $23,000,000
Other funding: $13,433,926

Commerce City, CO: This project will produce renewable diesel and jet fuel from woody biomass by integrating ClearFuels’ and Rentech’s conversion technologies. The facility will also evaluate the conversion of bagasse and biomass mixtures to fuels.

Elevance Renewable Sciences
DOE funding: $2,500,000
Non-Fed funding: $625,000

Newton IA: This project was selected to complete preliminary engineering design for a future facility producing jet fuel, renewable diesel substitutes, and high value chemicals from plant oils and poultry fat.

Gas Technology Institute
DOE funding: $2,500,000
Non-Fed funding: $625,000

Des Plaines, IL. This project was selected to complete preliminary engineering design for a novel process to produce green gasoline and diesel from woody biomass, agricultural residues, and algae.

Haldor Topsoe
DOE funding: $25,000,000
Non-Fed funding: $9,701,468

Des Plaines, IL. This project will convert wood to green gasoline by fully integrating and optimizing a multi?step gasification process. The pilot plant will have the capacity to process 21 metric tons of feedstock per day.

ICM
DOE funding: $25,000,000
Non-Fed funding: $6,268,136

St. Joseph, MO. This project will modify an existing corn ethanol facility to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and energy sorghum using biochemical conversion processes.

Logos Technologies
DOE funding: $20,445,849
Non-Fed funding: $5,113,962

Visalia, CA. This project will convert switchgrass and woody biomass into ethanol using a biochemical conversion processes.

Renewable Energy Institute International
DOE funding: $19,980,930

Non-Fed funding: $5,116,072

Toledo, OH. This project will produce high quality green diesel from agriculture and forest residues using advanced pyrolysis and steam reforming. The pilot plant will have the capacity to process 25 dry tons of feedstock per day.

Solazyme
DOE funding: $21,765,738
Non-Fed funding: $3,857,111

Riverside PA. This project will validate the projected economics of a commercial scale biorefinery producing multiple advanced biofuels. This project will produce algae oil that can be converted to oil based fuels.

Honeywell’s UOP
DOE funding: $25,000,000
Non-Fed funding: $6,685,340

Kapolei, HI. This project will integrate existing technology from Ensyn and UOP to produce green gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from agricultural residue, woody biomass, dedicated energy crops, and algae.

ZeaChem
DOE funding: $25,000,000
Non-Fed funding: $625,000

Boardman, OR: This project will use purpose grown hybrid poplar trees to produce fuel-grade ethanol using hybrid technology. Additional feedstocks such as agricultural residues and energy crops will also be evaluated in the pilot plant.

December 14, 2009 Posted by | Amyris, DOE, solazyme, zeachem | 31 Comments

Amyris is Looking Promising

As I have said before, an ideal biofuel would be one that phases out of water, and is therefore much less energy intensive to separate. One of the big energy sinks in ethanol production involves an energy intensive separation of ethanol from water. If ethanol was insoluble it would phase out of solution and could be skimmed off and separated for a fraction of the energy input.

This is the sort of model that companies like LS9 and Virent have adopted. They are using microorganisms to produce longer-chain hydrocarbons that not only are much easier to separate from water, but also have higher energy density. I have commented in the past that this is ‘Holy Grail’ stuff, but also would be technically challenging. But I think companies pursuing this line of research have a real shot at being ultimately successful.

Add Amyris to the list of companies competing for the Holy Grail. They also have a twist to their business plan that should give them an advantage over their competitors. Amyris has been mentioned on this blog a couple of times previously, but not in the same kind of detail as LS9. This post will rectify that by highlighting what they are doing.

First, what are they doing? In their own words:

Amyris technology makes it possible to alter the metabolic pathways of microorganisms such as yeasts, creating living factories that produce molecules with practical applications. While reading, writing, and analyzing the DNA of microbes once took years, Amyris can now reprogram microorganisms and test our ability to produce desired molecules in days to weeks. Our proprietary technology transforms plant-based feedstocks, such as sugarcane, into 50,000 different isoprenoids –molecules used in a wide variety of energy, pharmaceutical, and chemical applications.

So you have heard similar claims before. However, they are quite a bit farther along than many would-be biofuel companies. They just announced the ‘opening’ (I presume that means they aren’t starting up just yet) of their first pilot plant in Emeryville, California:

Amyris Opens Pilot Plant to Produce Renewable Diesel Fuel

California Facility Marks Step in Developing and Commercializing Viable Alternative to Petroleum Fuels

EMERYVILLE, Calif. – November 12, 2008 – Amyris Biotechnologies, Inc. today announced that it has opened its first pilot plant producing No Compromise™ renewable diesel fuel. The pilot plant, which was ompleted in September, is an important milestone for Amyris towards its goal of developing and commercializing its sustainable, hydrocarbon‐based fuel, which it expects to bring to market in 2010.

The plant serves as a technical gateway to commercialization in Brazil and other manufacturing locations. It will demonstrate Amyris’ technology in scaled down process equipment that is representative of full ommercial scale operations; generate essential engineering data for designing Amyris’ full scale plants; and produce product samples for performance testing.

Amyris’ diesel is characterized as a No Compromise™ fuel because it is designed to be a scalable, low‐cost enewable fuel with performance attributes that equal or exceed those of petroleum‐sourced fuels and urrently available biofuels.

Other attributes innclude:

• Superior environmental performance: Preliminary analyses show that Amyris diesel fuel has virtually no sulfur and signifiantly reduced NOx, particulate, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon exhaust emissions relative to petroleum‐sourced diesel fuel.

• High blending rates: Because Amyris renewable diesel contains many of the properties of petroleum diesel, Amyris can blend the fuel at high levels ‐‐ up to 50 pecent ‐‐ compared with 10‐20 percent for conventional biodiesel and ethanol.

• Compatibility with existing infrastructure: Unlike many commercially available biofuels, Amyris expects to distribute its renewable diesel through the existing fuel distribution and storage infrastructure, thus speeding time to market while minimizing costs.

• Adaptive: Amyris can produce its fuels from a broad range of feedstock including sugar cane and cellulosic biomass. It is starting with Brazilian sugar cane because it provides the most environmentally sound, economical, and scalable source of energy available today.

“This new diesel fuel has all the characteristics to make an important contribution toward solving our global transportation energy and climate crisis,” said John Melo, chief executive officer of Amyris. “The opening of ur pilot plant is a significant business marker for us, taking us one step closer to bringing our diesel fuel to market.”

In parallel with this effort, Amyris will open a larger pilot plant in Campinas, Brazil in the spring of 2009 here it will finalize processes for Brazilian operations; transfer the technology to manufacturing sites in Brazil; and provide ongoing support for optimizing production in Brazil.

Earlier this year, Amyris established Amyris‐Crystalsev Biofuels, a Brazilian venture in partnership with Crystalsev, one of Brazil’s largest ethanol distributors and marketers, to work with Brazilian sugarcane mills and fuel producers to scale up production of Amyris diesel fuel. SantelisaVale, the second‐largest ethanol nd sugar producer in Brazil has committed two million tons of sugar cane crushing capacity for the initial roduction of Amyris diesel, including its flagship Santelisa mill.

Amyris’ proprietary synthetic biology platform enables Amyris scientists to engineer microorganisms such as yeast so that they can transform sugar into 50,000 different molecules used in a wide variety of energy, pharmaceutical, and chemical applications. Amyris is working on the development and commercialization of everal of these molecules to provide a range of renewable products, including diesel fuel, jet fuel and specialty chemicals.

The platform has already proven successful through the development of a strain of yeast to enable the production of a precursor to artemisinin, a key ingredient in anti‐malarial drugs, at significantly lower cost than can be achieved with conventional technologies. This technology was developed as a not‐for‐profit initiative, and has been transferred to sanofi‐aventis.

About Amyris

Amyris is applying a proprietary synthetic biology platform to create No Compromise™ products ‐‐ low cost renewable fuels and chemicals that are intended to be environmentally friendly, compatible with the existing infrastructure, and have performance attributes comparable to petroleum‐based fuels. Amyris has also developed a technology to produce a second supply of an anti‐malarial drug. Founded in 2003, Amyris has raised over $120 million in equity funding to‐date, including investments from Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, TPG Biotech, and DAG Ventures. Amyris has over 200 employees and facilities in meryville, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Campinas, Brazil. More information about Amyris is available at http://www.amyris.com/.

The really interesting aspect of their business model is the Brazil angle. The U.S. currently has an import tariff on Brazilian ethanol. However, that tariff does not cover other biofuels coming from Brazil. By utilizing low-cost Brazilian sugar to make their biofuel, they stand a good chance of meeting their cost projects. Further, by making diesel – which is looking to be in tighter demand than gasoline for years to come – they are getting into a market with much better profit margins than ethanol has.

This, and some other highlights from a Greentech Media story:

Amyris: We’re Better Than Biodiesel, Ethanol or Gas

Amyris, for instance, will be able to produce a form of diesel that it will sell at the wholesale level for $2 a gallon or less, or around the same price as conventional fossil diesel, said CEO John Melo.

“It will be around the same price as regular petrol diesel, but it will produce 80 percent less greenhouse gases, provide a 10 percent reduction in NOx (nitrogen gases) and provide the same or better performance,” Melo said. “And with zero sulfur.”

The company’s jet fuel, which will replace kerosene-based fuels, will produce 90 percent fewer greenhouse gases than the regular stuff without denting performance or mileage, he said.

The big test for Amyris will arrive in about two years. The company has created joint ventures in Brazil to create biorefineries on sugar plantations where genetically engineered yeast will feast on freshly harvested sugar. The resulting fuel will then be loaded onto ships and brought to the U.S. By 2010, Amyris hopes to be producing 200 million gallons a year out of its first plant and erecting more plants.

Melo also pointed out that because Amyris isn’t producing ethanol (an alcohol) in Brazil but a hydrocarbon (a molecule includes hydrogen and carbons), the ethanol tariff on Brazilian ethanol doesn’t apply.

Promising stuff. To me it looks like they have a good chance of being successful.

Footnote: As is the case with LS9 and Virent, there is no Amyris stock that one can buy. It is a privately held venture.

November 13, 2008 Posted by | Amyris, LS9, Virent | 200 Comments