Interview, Investments, Q&A

Q&A: Rivertop Renewables on Glucaric Acid

Rivertop accelerates commercialization

Here’s another recent Q&A that I had, this time with Rivertop Renewables about their glucaric acid.  The company recently raised $26 million from Cargill, First Green Partners and existing investors.

Q: When will Rivertop start up its semi-works facility in Missoula? What products will be produced in this facility? What is the capacity of this facility?

A: Parallel Manufacturing Strategy: It’s important to note that we are pursuing a dual-manufacturing strategy in order to accelerate commercialization. First, we’ll initiate commercial-scale manufacturing with our contract manufacturing partner to supply customers with quantities of up to 1mm pounds per month.

This first facility will utilize a first generation process; it is expandable and will meet our market development needs for some time. We are simultaneously pursuing a more efficient “2nd generation” process at our semi-works facility in Missoula. As soon as early next year, the semi-works facility will begin providing the data necessary to design and build a world-scale plant with capacity of 100mm pounds per year. Engineering on both efforts is in full swing and we expect to announce our progress on both fronts as appropriate.

Products: Salts of glucaric acid is our initial targeted chemical product out of both facilities.

Capacity: The semi-works facility will be primarily focused on process development; capacity will be relatively small.

Q: When do you expect commercialization of glucaric acid-based products in dishwasher detergent and corrosion inhibitor markets?

A: We’re already selling formulations of an available organic acid as Headwaters™ 40F Corrosion Inhibitor into the road de-icing market. This winter we sold 245,000 gallons of the product to the Montana Department of Transportation, an amount sufficient to inhibit over 4.9mm gallons of salt brine that they spray on roads before and after winter storms. Our brine additive reduces the corrosion of steel vehicles parts and highway infrastructure like guardrails by more than 70 percent. Glucaric acid-derived variations of this introductory deicing product have differentiating qualities that we’re excited to bring to market.

As for commercialization of glucaric-based ingredients for the dishwashing detergent market, we’re working with multiple customers under confidentiality agreements. Understandably, most of these customers need to see our path to commercial production before they’ll invest heavily in integrating our novel chemicals into their formulations. This new funding brings clarity around our pathway to manufacturing and commercialization. We look forward to updating customers and partners on market development and world-scale supplies of product in the coming months.

One of the biggest benefits of our approach is scalability. As a chemical and not biological process, adding capacity is constrained only by engineering and delivery of long lead-time equipment. Once these tasks are completed, we expect a rapid path through start-up to commercial quantities.

Q: How big is the current glucaric acid market? Where is it mainly produced and what are its current applications?

Glucaric Market Size: Rivertop is unique in that we’re the only company pursuing dedicated to large-scale commercial production of glucaric and related sugar acids to consumer product groups and industrial customers.

Where Produced/Applications: Current sales of glucaric acid derivatives are limited to tens of thousands of pounds of nutritional supplements valued at millions of dollars and produced out of India and China using technologies that are inefficient and not scalable.

Q: What is the current cost of glucaric acid in the market? Do you expect your glucaric acid to be more cost-economic compared to current pricing?

Current Cost: Current cost of glucaric acid derivatives varies anywhere from ~$12 to $100 per pound.
Versus the price of other supplies of glucaric acid, our pricing will be orders of magnitude lower, enabling us to serve consumer product markets and industrial uses. We have much better process economics than existing producers as we are able to use less catalyst and reagent and are able to avoid releases and waste.

We capture, recycle, and re-use unconsumed inputs. We achieve a 100 percent yield on the six carbons in glucose and add oxygens. As a result, we convert 1 pound of glucose into 1.4 pounds of product.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 12 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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