Myriant Technologies plans pilot-scale cellulosic biorefinery

By Erin Voegele | August 10, 2009
BioEnergy International LLC, a privately held biotech developer and manufacturer of next-generation renewable biochemicals and biofuels, recently announced the formation of Myriant Technologies LLC, which will incorporate its biobased chemicals business and intellectual property. BioEnergy International and Myriant Technologies will operate as separate entities.

BioEnergy International will continue its pursuit of biofuels opportunities, including the development of a Clearfield, Penn.-based ethanol plant that is expected to begin operations in January 2010. Myriant Technologies is partnering with the University of Florida on a pilot-scale biorefinery facility that will produce cellulosic ethanol and biobased chemicals.

"The university was awarded $20 million by the state of Florida to develop what we feel is the first true integrated biorefinery that will take advanced cellulosic feedstock and then produce a multiple of products, including biofuels and biochemicals," said Samuel McConnell, who serves as the senior vice president of corporate development for both Myriant Technologies and BioEnergy International.

According to Kevin Heinicka, the University of Florida's director of facilities planning and operations, the pilot-scale biorefinery project will employ two technologies developed by the university: a cellulosic ethanol technology that has been licensed to Verenium Corp., and a biochemicals technology that has been licensed to Myriant Technologies. Myriant Technologies will co-operate the facility with the university. Verenium is not expected to be actively involved in the project.

The point of the facility, said Heinicka, is to further develop the two technologies and experiment with different feedstock sources. The company has scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility to take place in October. Heinicka estimated that construction will begin during the first quarter of 2010, with the facility being operational by the end of year.

According to McConnell, the project is currently in the design phase and a site has been identified adjacent to Buckeye Technologies Inc.'s wood processing plant in Perry, Fla.

Buckeye will supply a portion of the feedstock used by the facility, including slash pine that is processed by the company and the waste streams coming out of its production process. A variety of other feedstocks will be utilized by the pilot biorefinery, including energy cane, sugarcane bagasse, poplar, sweet sorghum, wood waste, and waste-based biomass materials. According to McConnell, Buckeye also has access to significant acreage immediately adjacent to the site, which could be used to grow a wide variety of organic feedstocks that will be employed by the pilot facility.

Once complete, the pilot-scale biorefinery is expected to have the capacity to process approximately 5 dry tons-per-day of cellulosic biomass material. The facility will be capable of producing more than 140,000 gallons of ethanol or 1,000 tons of biobased chemicals annually.

BioEnergy International began commercial production of its D(-) lactic acid product in 2008 for use in polylactic acid. D(-) lactic acid solves polylactic acid's thermal stability problem, unlocking its potential and expanding its applications to engineering and high performance plastics. Myriant is currently working to develop biobased succinic acid, which can be used as a building block for plastics and as a replacement for petroleum-based chemicals. "We see this [pilot-scale biorefinery] as an ideal weapon for us in acclimating our technology for each chemical to waste-based feedstocks," McConnell said.