Clariant partners with ExxonMobil and Renewable Energy Group

Article by Amanda Jasi

Clariant has partnered with ExxonMobil and the biofuel firm Renewable Energy Group (REG) to develop a seamless cellulosic biomass-to-diesel process.

Clariant’s sunliquid technology converts agricultural waste and residues into fermentable C5 and C6 sugars, which are used to produce ethanol. The technology involves a chemical-free pre-treatment system and the use of feedstock-specific enzymes, which enables high production yields of C5 and C6 sugars.

Exxon and REG have signed a joint research agreement with Clariant to evaluate the potential use of cellulosic sugars produced from agricultural sources, in biofuel production. This could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Previously Exxon and REG validated the ability to use REG’s bioconversion technology to convert sugars created from cellulosic biomass into biodiesel, in a single-step process. REG’s partnership with Exxon allowed it to develop proprietary technology that uses industrial microbes to convert complex cellulosic sugars into low-carbon biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process.

The aim of the new agreement is to allow Exxon and REG to further optimise the bioconversion process using the cellulosic sugars created by Clariant’s sunliquid process. The ultimate goal is to combine the two processes, creating a seamless cellulosic biomass-to-diesel technology.

Clariant's pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany

Clariant will conduct trials at its pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany. The company will convert different types of cellulosic feedstock into sugars, and Exxon and REG will convert the sugars into high-quality, low-carbon diesel.

The new partners will also investigate the feasibility of the integrated process comprising the technologies of all parties.

Vijay Swarup, Vice President of Research and Development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering said: “Over the past three years, our work with REG has led to important advances in genetically improving REG’s proprietary microbes for a beneficial use in facilitating the conversion of cellulosic sugars into biodiesel. Applying Clariant’s expertise and knowledge will help us better understand and advance a key stage in the overall cellulosic conversion process, and hopefully lead to the development of scalable biodiesel technology.”

sunliquid uses agricultural waste and residues as feedstock to produce bioethanol. The feedstock is chopped and then undergoes a steam exposure pre-treatment. The pre-treatment makes it easier for feedstock-specific enzymes to access cellulose and hemicellulose chains, which are broken down to C5 and C6 sugars. These sugars are then fermented into ethanol in a one-pot reaction.

Clariant confirmed the use of a chemical-free, steam-exposure pre-treatment. In this process step the agricultural residues are treated with steam under pressure which reduces them into fibre bundles ready for the next step, hydrolysis. Clariant stresses that the elimination of chemicals from this step substantially improves process economics and value of the by-products lignin and vinasse from the process.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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