Renmatix announced its recipient of a $14 million investment led by Bill Gates and Total, which will reportedly help drive towards the first wave of Renmatix licensees building Plantrose-enabled biorefineries in diverse global markets such as Canada, India, Malaysia, the US, etc. The Plantrose process uses supercritical water to reduce costs in conversion of biomass to cellulosic sugars. The process will economically enable a multitude of renewable process technologies to access the market for high volume, low-cost, broadly-sourced cellulosic sugars.
Bill Gates reportedly noted the need to decarbonize the industrial sector and the possibility of cost-competitive biofuels. Total has initially invested in Renmatix in 2015, and aside from the expanded investment this year, Total has also signed a licensing agreement with Renmatix for 1 million tons of cellulosic sugar production capacity annually, at Total’s discretion to build corresponding facilities.
Renmatix has also been expanding its product portfolio with additional bio-based building block intermediates, including Omno polymers and crystalline cellulose. According to the company website, Omno polymers are based on lignin that are pulled away when the company’s Plantro cellulosic sugars are hydrolyzed from the cellulose. The resulting lignin can be used as a substitute for many different types of polymers and chemicals.
Lignin tends to be reactive and sticky, requiring special attention in order to separate it from cellulose. This, therefore, often lead to further processing and higher costs to make them useful in targeted markets. The traditional approach, according to Renmatix, is to add strong chemicals, often including sulfur-based contaminants. This is typically done in pulp and paper processing when lignin is removed from paper pulp. This has limited the lignin market substantially.
Renmatix said its Plantrose process can remove lignin using only water, and the resulting c0-product has no offensive smell, it is clean and highly functional for more higher-value applications. The company’s Omno lignin polymers can reportedly be tailored to meet customer needs with tunable characteristics like molecular weight and particle size.
There has been considerable research in the industry for higher value end uses of lignin such as conversion to adhesives, carbon fibres, thermoplastics and commodity chemicals like BTX (benzene, toluene, xylene). We have reported a bit of the lignin market as well as lignin conversion technologies on Tecnon OrbiChem’s May 2016 Biomaterials newsletter. I might have to re-visit this market again later this year.