Verenium announces cellulosic advancements

By Kris Bevill | May 09, 2008
After a financially shaky 2007, Massachusetts-based Verenium Corp. is looking for 2008 to be the year of milestones and key developments in its cellulosic ethanol business.

"We feel that 2008 is going to be a transformational year for Verenium as we continue to make significant progress at our facilities in Jennings," said Kelly Lindenboom, vice president of corporate communications for Verenium. "Our demonstration-scale facility is the first of its kind in the United States, and we're expecting the learning that comes out of that plant will give us the guidance we need to move forward on our first commercial-scale facility by the end of next year. It will be an important landmark not only for Verenium,
but for the cellulosic ethanol industry."

The company recently announced key developments at its $60 million, 1.4 MMgy demonstration-scale facility in Jennings, La., where initial groundbreaking took place early last year. Electricity was recently supplied to the property, and individual systems have begun the start-up phase. Verenium plans to test more than 40 separate systems in the next few months to determine their functional capabilities. "The next several months will be critical in terms of scaling our process and technology," said Carlos Riva, president and chief executive officer at Verenium.

Following the initial start-up, Verenium will move into the "commissioning and optimization phase" to validate the implementation of its technology and to process ethanol at scale.

That phase is expected to continue through the end of 2008. Upon successful completion of those steps, Verenium expects to begin construction of its first commercial-scale facility.

According to Lindenboom, the 30 MMgy commercial plant will cost $185 million. "We have roughly six different sites that we're looking at right now," Lindenboom said. "We have enough space on our property in Jennings to do a commercial facility right there, although we haven't decided if that will be where we locate the first one." Lindenboom said Verenium has determined a plant must be located within a 50-mile radius of feedstock to be feasible. The company's future plans are to build, own and operate multiple commercial-scale facilities.

Sugarcane and energy cane are current feedstock sources at the demo plant. Energy cane is similar in composition to sugarcane, but lesser known as a feedstock. "As far as I know, we are the only ones who are currently propagating this," Lindenboom said. The tall, grass-like perennial has no other purpose than for energy, unlike sugarcane.

Verenium currently manages small plots of energy cane in the Southeast, but Lindenboom said the company wants to contract with farmers to grow the crop on a long-term basis.

Sugarcane residue is also currently being supplied by Southeastern farmers.

Verenium was formed in 2007 by a merger of Celunol Corp. and Diversa Corp. The enzyme technology brought to Verenium by Diversa has allowed the company to manufacture enzymes on-site, according to Lindenboom, who added that "having all that in-house has certainly been a competitive advantage."