Finnish pulp and paper company UPM has partnered with US cellulosic sugar developer Renmatix to further develop Renmatix’s water-based Plantrose process to convert woody biomass into low-cost sugar intermediates for subsequent downstream processing into biochemicals. The companies said the partnership’s long-term goal is to offer cost-competitive biobased alternatives to select petrochemicals on an industrial scale.
Renmatix’s Plantrose continuous process uses water at very high temperatures and pressures to breakdown biomass through supercritical hydrolysis. Under this condition, water can act as both solvent and catalyst creating rapid reactions. The process does not use enzymes.
According to Renmatix CEO Mike Hamilton, their sugar prices that will be produced in their first commercial facility will be competitive with sugars manufactured from first generation feedstocks such as corn and sugarcane. These low-cost industrial sugars will then enable a variety of biochemical and biofuel producers to compete with existing petroleum-based alternatives.
Feedstock is the largest cost contributor for producing cellulosic sugar and costs range between different types of biomass, says Hamilton. The greatest challenge facing the biobased chemicals and biofuels industry is how to manufacture large quantities of sugar at a cost low enough to compete in the commodities market and ultimately enable a broad array of downstream biochemical and biofuel producers to compete with petroleum-based alternatives.
Renmatix’s Kennesaw, Georgia, facility is currently capable of converting 3 dry tons/day of celullosic biomass — from wood waste or agricultural residues — to C5 (xylose) and C6 (glucose) sugars that will be marketed under the Plantro brand. The company commissioned in January its BioFlex Conversion Unit (BCU), a multiple-feedstock processing facility at Renmatix’s headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
The new unit will test and convert a range of non-food plant materials such as hardwood, perennial grasses, agricultural residues, softwoods and waste streams through Renmatix’s Plantrose process. The cellulosic sugars produced on-site via the BCU will support downstream fuel and chemical strategic partners, and one of those partners is BASF aside from UPM.
UPM said the partnership is still in the phase of mill scale concept development and the company did not disclose any specific renewable chemicals that they will will aim to produce. UPM is already marketing biobased chemicals from their current pulp and paper production processes but there are other significant synergies and innovative, high value-added products that can complement their existing businesses with biobased chemicals, says Michael Duetsch, director, biochemicals and new businesses and development at UPM.
“We are considering a number of possible business models for select petrochemical on an industrial scale as long term goal of this initiative. We will not disclose any details on this for the time being.” – UPM