Above: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, visits Renmatix's world tech center near Philadelphia in January 2013
It’s no secret that converting perennial grasses into biofuels or consumer paper products takes a lot of work. So how is it that perennial grasses could be made into usable products and go from raw material to production plant? Renmatix, who prides itself on being “the bridge to renewable materials”, is working with CenUSA to build that bridge for perennial grasses.
Farmers are innovators and are always looking for the next new way to use their crops to make products or produce energy. Agronomists, plant breeders and engineers at CenUSA have been looking at potential commercial applications for switchgrass ranging from forage to advanced transportation fuels. In the fourth year of this five-year project, CenUSA has started investigating commercial opportunities for perennial grasses beyond biofuels, broadening the research focus to include searching for profitable intermediate markets that provide opportunities beyond fuel production.
With sustainable innovation a key to a greener future, CenUSA Bioenergy has started working with a new company, Renmatix whose focus is enabling partners to convert “Biomass to Sugar Faster and Cheaper. Really.” For entrepreneurs looking to solve the energy challenge with alternative fuel sources and hoping to make a return on their crop, Renmatix may offer a way to create additional chains opportunities with the biofuels supply chain.
The research collaboration between Renmatix and CenUSA is exploring near-term commercial opportunities involving perennial grasses and the production of cellulosic sugars extracted from biomass. If successful, Renmatix and CenUSA would add opportunities for producers investing in perennial grass crops and help construct a bridge to renewable fuels from these grasses.
How does switchgrass go from raw material at the farm to something profitable and usuable? That is where Renmatix comes into the equation. Renmatix is an innovative bioindustrial company licensing conversion technology taking lignocellulosic materials and economically and efficiently extracting sugars. Renmatix uses its own Plantrose™ process to convert biomass materials, such as perennial grasses provided by CenUSA, into cellulosic sugars and lignin. The sugars can then be processed downstream into products like ethanol or plastics.
“We will take the biomass samples from CenUSA and conduct analyses to determine their suitability for cost effective cellulosic sugar production,” said Frank Lipiecki, Research and Development Director of Renmatix.
Several companies are exploring moving away from petroleum-based products and focusing on renewable routes and product substitution. Renmatix and BASF, the world’s leading chemical company, have a JDA (joint development agreement) in place for licensing multiple biorefineries that will produce renewable chemicals. Renmatix also works to support consumer-facing companies like Coca-Cola in their sustainability commitments via initiatives such as further development of renewable plantbottle™ packaging.
Using biomass feedstock provided by CenUSA, Renmatix will run tests to determine the economic feasibility of converting switchgrass and corn stover into sugars.
“They will take all those different feedstocks that are being developed as part of the project and they will do some benchmark analysis and that will give them an idea of feasibility, how it might impact the process, how they might have to change conditions,” said Ryan Smith, Deputy director of CenUSA’s thermochemical research program.
CenUSA will be providing Liberty switchgrass, big bluestem, a low diversity grass mixture, Indiangrass, and an experimental bioenergy big bluestem cultivar, as well as corn stover to Renmatix starting in the fall of 2014.
“In addition to different feedstocks, we will provide perennial grasses (Liberty switchgrass, big bluestem, and a low diversity grass mixture) harvested during the growing season and after a killing frost,” said research agronomist Rob Mitchell.
The lignin co-product will be sent back to Iowa State University’s Bioeconomy Institute’s Biorenewables Lab and CenUSA for further research.
By working with Renmatix, CenUSA is looking forward to a future where renewable chemicals and fuels will be produced from a biorenewable source – perennial grasses.