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Clariant partners with ExxonMobil and REG to advance cellulosic biofuels R&D

ExxonMobil and Renewable Energy Group (REG) have signed a joint research agreement with Clariant to evaluate the potential use of cellulosic sugars from sources such as agricultural waste and residues to produce advanced biofuels. The new partnership expands an existing agreement for joint research between ExxonMobil and REG, to convert sugars from cellulosic biomass into biodiesel through a single-step process.

Clariant's pre-commercial sunliquid demonstration plant in Straubing, Germany. The technology offers a completely integrated process design built on established process technology. Innovative technology features include the integrated production of feedstock and process specific enzymes and simultaneous C5 and C6 fermentation (photo courtesy Clariant).

Clariant’s pre-commercial sunliquid demonstration plant in Straubing, Germany. The technology offers a completely integrated process design built on established process technology. Innovative technology features include the integrated production of feedstock and process specific enzymes and simultaneous C5 and C6 fermentation (photo courtesy Clariant).

In January 2016, US-headed ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, the R&D arm of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publically traded energy company and renewable chemical and biodiesel producer Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (REG) announced an agreement for joint research to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from agricultural waste.

In November 2107, the duo expanded the joint R&D programme and have since successfully validated the ability of REG Life Sciences bio-conversion technology to convert sugars from cellulosic biomass into biodiesel through a single-step process.

Trials in Straubing

The new agreement with Switzerland speciality chemical major Clariant AG allows ExxonMobil and REG to further optimize REG’s bio-conversion process using previously tested and benchmarked cellulosic sugars created through Clariant’s “sunliquid” process. The companies’ ultimate objective is to combine Clariant’s and REG’s processes into a seamless cellulosic biomass-to-biodiesel technology.

Over the past three years, our work with REG has led to important advances in genetically improving REG’s proprietary microbes for beneficial use in facilitating the conversion of cellulosic sugars into biodiesel. Applying Clariant’s expertise and knowledge will help us better understand and advance a key stage in the overall cellulosic conversion process, and hopefully lead to the development of scalable biodiesel technology, said Vijay Swarup, Vice President of R&D at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

Clariant is a leading company offering integrated technologies and solutions for converting agricultural residues such as wheat straw, rice straw, corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. Clariant’s sunliquid process features chemical-free pretreatment, the integrated production of feedstock and process-specific enzymes and thus high yields of fermentable C5 and C6 sugars.

Clariant will conduct trials at its pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany using different types of cellulosic feedstock that will be converted into sugars for conversion by REG and ExxonMobil into high-quality, low-carbon biodiesel.

“We are committed to innovation and R&D, together with a focus on sustainability, as main pillars of Clariant’s strategy. Our sunliquid technology platform is a key outcome of this commitment. We are proud that two strong allies in the biofuels industry have selected Clariant as their partner and are excited to work with them on further leveraging this unique technology for converting cellulosic biomass to fuels and chemicals, including biodiesel,” said Christian Kohlpaintner, member of Clariant’s Executive Committee, here seen during the ground-breaking ceremony held on September 12, 2018 in Podari, Romania for Clariant’s first large-scale commercial sunliquid ethanol plant.

REG Life Sciences technology has proven its broad applicability to industries as diverse as flavour and fragrance, speciality chemicals and transportation fuels. Through its partnership with ExxonMobil, REG has developed proprietary technology that utilizes industrial microbes to convert complex cellulosic sugars into low-carbon biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process.

ExxonMobil has been an exceptional partner in developing this promising technology. We are delighted to be able to add Clariant to the team with its market-leading sunliquid technology. We believe we have assembled a dream team for conversion of cellulosic biomass to low carbon biofuels and are excited about the promise of this collaboration said Eric Bowen, Vice President of REG Life Sciences.

The partners will also work on a conceptual engineering study to validate the feasibility of the integrated process comprising the technologies of all parties.

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