As two pioneer biobased fuel and chemical firms wind down, their assets and capabilities are getting another life under new owners. Cellulosic sugar start-up Renmatix has bought a processing facility in Rome, N.Y., from biofuels firm Mascoma, and agribusiness giant Cargill has purchased the microbial engineering platform of biobased chemicals developer OPX Biotechnologies.
Renmatix will use the Rome facility, which was designed to pretreat wood chips using steam, to speed up development of its system for making sugar from biomass. It’s equipment that Renmatix would otherwise have had to build itself, explains Chief Executive Officer Mike Hamilton. The company has hired 12 full-time staffers from the local area to run the plant.
Renmatix plans to ship processed solids, which include C5 sugars from hemicellulose plus cellulose and lignin components, to its facility in Kennesaw, Ga. That’s where a second stage of processing will extract C6 sugars from the wood’s cellulose using supercritical water.
Hamilton says the facility will help the firm demonstrate that its sugar production process yields a cost-competitive raw material for fuels and chemicals even with today’s low oil and gas prices. Then, he says, partners including energy company Total, chemical maker BASF, and forest products firm UPM will license the technology to build their own biorefineries.
Mascoma started life with ambitions to create yeast that could ferment biomass into ethanol. In 2011, it made plans with Valero Energy to build a commercial ethanol facility, but Valero pulled out two years later. Mascoma then turned to selling its modified yeast to the corn ethanol industry. Last year, the yeast operation was sold to its partner in that business, Canada’s Lallemand.
Cargill, meanwhile, will boost its biobased products business with its acquisition of OPX Bio’s engineered microbes. Cargill is in a partnership with Novozymes to make biobased acrylic acid and plans to use the OPX Bio platform to make chemicals for end markets such as lubricants, detergents, and plastics. In recent years, OPX Bio worked with partners including Dow Chemical and Evonik Industries on biobased routes to acrylic acid and other chemicals. After the sale to Cargill, it will wind down.