Chevron to supply lignin feedstock to Mascoma

By Erin Voegele | October 06, 2009
New Hampshire-based Mascoma Corp. recently announced it has entered into a feedstock processing and lignin supply agreement with Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
Under the agreement, CTV will provide Mascoma with a variety of lignocellulosic feedstocks. According to a Mascoma spokeswoman, it is expected that these feedstocks will consist primarily of woodchips, agricultural waste materials and energy crops, such as switchgrass.

Mascoma will convert the feedstock material supplied by CTV into cellulosic ethanol at the company's 200,000 gallon per year demonstration-scale facility in Rome, N.Y.

The first step in Mascoma's production process involves mildly heating and grinding up the lignocellulosic material. This separates the feedstock's fibers, making it easier for enzymes to digest the material. The company's proprietary genetically modified microbes are then added to the biomass material. The material is then processed to produce sugar, which is fermented into ethanol. According to Mascoma's spokeswoman, the technology is unique because the company's microbes are able to break down cellulose into sugar as well as ferment those sugars into ethanol. Lignin is created as a byproduct of Mascoma's cellulosic ethanol production process.

Under the agreement formed with CTV, Mascoma will supply the lignin byproduct to CTV for evaluation and testing. According to Chevron spokesman Russell Johnson, CTV is evaluating a variety of feedstock conversion technologies that could potentially be used to produce advanced biofuels. The lignin supplied by Mascoma will be one feedstock used to evaluate those technologies. According to Johnson, Chevron is primarily interested in developing technologies for biofuels that are compatible with current vehicles and infrastructure.

Mascoma's spokeswoman specified that CTV's experiments will likely focus on evaluating the possibility of converting lignin into petroleum replacement fuels, such as renewable jet fuel and diesel products. Although the lignin research will be conducted at CTV's laboratory, she said CTV and Mascoma will be working collaboratively on the project.

"This is an important moment for us at Mascoma," said Jim Flatt, company president. "The upgrading of our byproduct lignin to high-value transportation fuel is an important step in our effort to prove the effectiveness of integrated biorefineries. It has been our goal all along to make our process as integrated and sustainable as possible." The company is hopeful that the technology developed with CTV will be suitable for a wide variety of feedstocks, a spokeswoman said.

Mascoma is developing a full-scale cellulosic ethanol production facility in Kinross, Mich. Groundbreaking on the plant is planned for the first half of 2010 with commercial production of cellulosic ethanol to begin in early 2013.